NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT MAY DAY PRESENTATION INTERFAITH SPRING HOLIDAY FESTIVAL Interfaith Dialogue Group 85 Thorncliffe Park Drive Party Room April 28, 2012
I appreciate the opportunity to share some thoughts and ideas on May Day, the labour holiday, as part of your Multifaith celebration. For me, and for many of my ancestors, May Day is an important holiday and tradition. I’m Brian Burch, an Old Catholic priest. I am also a shop steward of Labourers Local 183, and have been in similar positions with the I.W.W. and OPSEU.
In its original form, May Day was a community celebration of life and fertility—an opportunity to enjoy the promises of the new season and to honour the creativity of those that transform the gifts of creation through arts and craft into the goods that sustain and nourish life. This spirit infuses the modern May Day movement, which is a celebration of those that labour. May Day, like Easter, Christmas and All Saints Day, is rooted in pre-Christian holidays but has taken on new life and meaning over time.
The current expression of May Day began in May 1886 in Haymarket
Square in Chicago. In Chicago, as in many cities across the United States, there was a general strike in support of an eight hour working day on May 1st. On May 3rd there was a rally in support of striking McCormick Harvester workers, during which police opened fire and killed two strikers. On May 4th, in Haymarket Square, there was a mass rally in protest of what happened at the McCormick factory. Dynamite was thrown during this rally, leading to the death of police offices and protestors. Charges were laid against 8 of rally organisers and four were hanged. Since these events May Day has become a time to focus on the needs of workers—for bread and for roses—and a feast day in the Western Liturgical Calendar, honouring first St. Joseph the Worker and more recently the Feast of St Philip & St James, the patron saints of workers. It is a political day—one can not call for social justice without engaging in the political process—-but it also is a religious day—there is a spiritual obligation to care for those that labour on behalf of all
Religious literature does remind us that within the world of the sacred is the call for social justice and the recognition that it is in the transformation of the physical world through our work that we our lives and communities are made possible. We are expected to care for the well being of all and to consider that that all we enjoy is potentially sacred and therefore those that make our goods and provide are services are to be treated with dignity and respect.
Some examples from the Abrahamic family of faith:
Exodus 23:12 “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed.
A Manual of Hadith: When you hire, compensate the workers and treat them fairly.
One: Blessed are you, Lord God of the Universe.
You are the giver of this bread, fruit of the earth
and of human labour.
Let it become the bread of Life.
All: Blessed be God, now and forever.
One: Blessed are you, Lord God of the Universe
You are the giver of this wine, fruit of the vine
and of human labour.
Let it become the wine of the eternal kingdom.
More recently May Day has been an opportunity to look at linkages between workers rights and other issues, from immigration and migrant workers to the impact of environmental problems on workers to gender exploitation. There have been stronger links made between faith based social justice workers, artists and the worker movement. This can be shown in many ways, from the Occupy Movement and Protest Chaplains calling for gatherings on May Day, to Mayworks—Festivals of Worker Art and Culture. The value of individuals and the contributions to meeting the needs of the community is being stressed, often in opposition to social fragmitation and the glorification of personal greed. There seems to be an unintentional reaching back to the older May Day, when life and labour were celebrated in dance and poetry and praise. The spirit of those that gathered in Haymarket Square is still alive, with anger at injustice and the hope that if we join together a just and peaceful world can be brought to life. But this spirit is reaching out beyond those that remember Haymarket into all corners of our society where there are those that are marginalized, forgotten, oppressed and isolated, seeking to bring together into our shared communal space all people so that all can share in the gifts of creation and be encouraged to find ways to themselves offer something unique to the process of linking the sacred world to the needs of the moment.