NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT PRESENTATION
MAYDAY AS A RELIGIOUS OBLIGATION
Interfaith Spring Holiday Festival
Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office Youth Centre. 45 – Overlea Blvd. Unit# 108 A
Sunday, April 7, 2013
There are two ways that May Day is celebrated around the world—the first is the deeply rooted celebration of spring and the rebirth of life; the second is the more recent celebration of the value of labour and to seek a world where all can live in a just and dignified way. Some of the spirit of the former infuses the more modern May Day, which is my focus today.
May Day is a somewhat overlooked celebration in North America, but it is here that the labour movement gave birth to this global spanning time to value those whose skills and effort create and provide the goods and services we enjoy. It isn’t just a day for ritual celebration—it is a day to remember those who have died while working to ensure all people are treated with dignity and respect and for the rights of workers to join together to meet common needs.
The first labour Mayday was held on May 1, 1886 as a day of protests and strikes across the United States calling for a 8 hour work day. In Chicago, as a follow up to the day of action and in support of striking workers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company who were brutally attacked on May 3rd, 1886, a demonstration was held at Haymarket Square on May 4th. A violent riot broke out after the police arrived en mass to break up the protest leading resulting in deaths and the subsequent arrest, trial and execution of many of the organisers of the May 4th demonstration. Protests around the world were held in support of the Haymarket martyrs and, by 1890 May Day became an annual day of action around the world commemorating Haymarket and calling for economic justice for all.
This sounds very secular but there is a true spiritual component to this struggle and to marking the day. From the food on our table to the maintaining the computers that host our internet servers to providing medical care, the all of the ways we share the gifts of creation and meet our individual and communal needs depends on the labour of others. We do not live in isolation but in mutual dependence. May Day celebrations bring this forward in a clear way. Those that work transform the raw gifts of creation into something new. If we do not respect those that work with creation, how then can we claim to honour the creator? When we cut the wages, benefits and working conditions of those that labour, what does that say about our commitment to living a truly faithful life?
Our sisters and brothers in the Roman Catholic church make this very clear—among the sins that call out to heaven is defrauding laborers of their wages – based on Deut 24:14–15 and James 5:4. Every closing down of a factory to move production to a place with weaker labour and environmental laws; every effort to suppress free collective bargaining, every attack on social benefits such as health care or pensions, is an attack on the wages of those who toil on behalf of all. When we put barriers in the way of people who are seeking employment, who are seeking ways to use their skills productively, we are attacking taking away the wages of workers.
On May Day we come together to remember those who gave their lives for others, to show support for those who are in need and to put forward in the public sphere the demand that those that work for us are entitled to their fair share of what they produce.
In recent years May Day events in the west have broadened the focus to include broader issues of solidarity—community based efforts to weave together the needs and interests of all those that the dominant society tend to marginalize with the ongoing struggle for the rights of workers. At the end of the day these are seen as aspects of the same struggle—-a desire that all within creation have equal access to the gifts of creation and equal responsibility as stewards as these gifts.