Behind the Iron Curtain: May Day

By the time I was growing up, the International Day of Worker Solidarity celebrated on the 1st of May became just another day in a long weekend of partying, spring outings, camping trips and fun. May Day usually started with the demonstration, the biggest one of course in Moscow, attended by the Politburo of the CPSU with the General Secretary himself, broadcast for hours on all three TV channels. Each self-respecting city had a smaller version with the local Party bosses in charge. During my years in technical school I’ve participated in one or two demonstrations. We were issued some uniforms and signs and walked with the crowds through the central streets of my city. Although the event was mandatory, we were happy to oblige, sixteen-year-olds don’t need much to entertain themselves in a crowd. So the smiles you see in the clip below are genuine, however, I highly doubt they have much to do with the world proletariat and their solidarity. Workers of the world, unite!”

Happy May Day!

The text on the poster is “May 1st 1920″ and on the bottom ” Through the debris of capitalism to the world brotherhood of workers”.

Now take a short trip thirty-some years and several thousand miles away.

  • Happy May Day, Comrade!

  • Doc

    Funny, when I was growing up May Day was a source of arguments in our household – my old man worked for GM and held the ‘old-fashioned’ opinion that we celebrated the unions that gave us the 8 hour work day. He would even speak admiringly and forcefully of the haymarket affair (I come by my accidental terrorism honestly), never mind it had occurred half a century ago by then .

    This, of course was offset by the ‘official’ version of May Day –via ol’ Ike of all people- that we would celebrate ‘Loyalty Day” then. The reasoning behind that was, of course, if you damned Ruskies were celebrating a labor movement, it had to be a communist threat, so we would do something else (despite the fact that the whole International Labor movement grew because of the haymarket affair…go figure). And for those of you unaware, this was also the time of the McCarthy bullshit…pretty ugly period.

    All of this was considered stupid, inane nonsense by the women of the family; great-grandma, grandma, mom and aunts. May Day, according to them, was once and always the beginning of summer, and a Maypole had to be erected – never mind this occurred on a 400 acre farm in the middle of nowhere, the nearest neighbor 10 miles down the dirt roads…- and May baskets made and delivered. If my memory serves, the basket really didn’t have anything in them but flower arrangements that the women alternately delivered/received to/from the farming community, which necessitated a lot of gab, a whole days’ worth, actually.

    So the kids would spend the morning gathering flowers while the men grumbled under their breaths while standing the Maypole and the women smiled upon the whole scene.

    Thus is much of history made.

    Today almost no one in this country remembers the modern celebration of labor unions. Coincidentally, expected work hours have crept upward, benefits have been scaled back and unions have lost their luster.

    Happy May Day.

  • How many times do I have to tell I don’t understand Russian! The language sounds hot though!

  • Hey thanks Meesha and Doc. I never realized the significance of the date that way.

    Growing up it was a day kids put little baskets of cheap ass candy on each others doorstep, rang the bell, and ran off.

    After some education I became familiar with the summer festival aspect, and later even some of the pagan traditions THAT came from.

    But never the laborers. Thanks again for the knowledge hit!

  • moxie- spasibo
    doc-you can’t write more than I did :-); I work for a union company and can’t hate the union any more than I already do.
    reader X – I promise there was nothing inappropriate in that clip.
    nuke – I am here to learn you about these things

  • Pozhaluista!