Monday, May 1, 2017

May First

Today not America is first but May first and I do not mean Theresa May either. May Day is an official holiday in Germany and it is known in many other countries as International Workers' Day too. Although the Weimar Republic had declared May 1, 1919, a holiday it remained a one-time decision of the Reichstag although Social Democrats and Communists had tried hard to establish May 1, as an official holiday in the Weimar Republic.

Strangely enough it were the Nazis who on April 10, 1933 declared the 1st of May a German holiday naming it strangely enough Tag der nationalen Arbeit (Day of national work) with most people not working on this day. Therefore one year later the Nazi government renamed the day in Nationaler Feiertag des deutschen Volkes (National holiday of the German people).

May 1, 1933 on Freiburg's Kaiserstra├če.
The SA is marching while Freiburgers are promenading.
Note the many flags colored black-white-red and only a few swastika flags (©Stadtarchiv).
In fact, the Minister for Propaganda Joseph Goebbels had lured the free trade unions by promising them the long demanded May Day and then had lulled them to sleep. He noted in his diary: We (the Nazis) are going to shape the 1st of May into a grandiose demonstration of the German people's will. Then on May 2, we will seize the buildings of the trade unions. When the trade unions are in our hands all other organizations and parties will no longer survive.


The evening edition of the Freiburger Zeitung of May 2, 1933, hypocritically reported about the first May Day rallies and what followed on the morning after: This morning the NSBO (Nazi factory cell organization) occupied the offices of the free trade unions at Schwabentor. This action is neither aimed at the professional organizations of the German worker nor shall those be destroyed. The occupation is rather aimed at cleaning the up-to-now Marxist orientated trade unions from the poison of Marxist ideas. The well-earned rights of the workers are not in danger and the payout of the statuary financial supports will continue. Thanks to the occupation it is possible to control cash in- and outflows. In the future trade union funds and membership fees are guaranteed not to be sent to foreign countries.

Well organized May rally on M├╝nsterplatz in 1939 (©Stadtarchiv)
Following Germany's defeat in the Second World War - again strangely enough - the victorious allied powers did not abolish the Nazi holiday for May Day was dear to the French and the Russians. Only the Americans were reserved since they had their traditional Labor Day the first Monday of September.

And for a third time strangely enough it is an event in the States that is at the origin of May Day. Red Baron learned on Wikipedia: 1 May was chosen to be International Workers' Day to commemorate the 4 May 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago. The police were trying to disperse a public assembly during a general strike for the eight-hour workday, when an unidentified person threw a bomb at the police. The police responded by firing on the workers, killing four demonstrators. The following day on 5 May in Milwaukee Wisconsin, the state militia fired on a crowd of strikers killing seven, including a schoolboy and a man feeding chickens in his yard.

With respect to this so-called Bay View Massacre Red Baron read in Richard H. Zeitlin's book Germans in Wisconsin that the massacre was the result of a radical labor movement going overboard. The German-born Robert Schilling had organized Milwaukee's industrial workers in a trade union called Knights of Labor. The left wing of the union was dominated by Paul Grotkau, a lifelong Socialist from Berlin, who in his Arbeiter Zeitung agitated for the workers' right to organize. When both Schilling and Grotkau organized a massive strike for an eight-hour workday in Milwaukee on May 5, 1886,  a Wisconsin militia unit ordered by the govenor moved in with the result mentioned above. For the last time strangely enough most of the strikers were Polish.

Was this bad memory the reason why the US did not consent to make May Day the American Labor Day?

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