May is finally here and with it comes some spring time weather here in Princeton and the end of the semester for me. Around the world and throughout history, people have spent May 1st doing mainly one of two things: protesting or celebrating.
Today around the world laborers are spending the day protesting for labor rights. From France to Bangladesh, protestors celebrate international workers’ day by marching through the streets. In the United States there are also many protests and marches, but specifically there are many immigration labor rights rallies happening today.
In more recent years, May Day has been a day for immigration reform rallies. Today, immigrants and their allies protest throughout the country including in the San Jose, California area where in 2006 there were historic rallies that called for immigration reform. Read up about labor and immigration in this country:
In 1937, Mexican workers were among the strikers and supporters beaten, arrested, and murdered by Chicago policemen in the now infamous Republic Steel Mill Strike. Using this event as a springboard, Zaragosa Vargas embarks on the first full-scale history of the Mexican-American labor movement in twentieth-century America. Absorbing and meticulously researched, Labor Rights Are Civil Rightspaints a multifaceted portrait of the complexities and contours of the Mexican American struggle for equality from the 1930s to the postwar era.
Drawing on extensive archival research, Vargas focuses on the large Mexican American communities in Texas, Colorado, and California. As he explains, the Great Depression heightened the struggles of Spanish speaking blue-collar workers, and employers began to define citizenship to exclude Mexicans from political rights and erect barriers to resistance. Mexican Americans faced hostility and repatriation.
The mounting strife resulted in strikes by Mexican fruit and vegetable farmers. This collective action, combined with involvement in the Communist party, led Mexican workers to unionize. Vargas carefully illustrates how union mobilization in agriculture, tobacco, garment, and other industries became an important vehicle for achieving Mexican American labor and civil rights.
He details how interracial unionism proved successful in cross-border alliances, in fighting discriminatory hiring practices, in building local unions, in mobilizing against fascism and in fighting brutal racism. No longer willing to accept their inferior status, a rising Mexican American grassroots movement would utilize direct action to achieve equality.
Others celebrate the more medieval side of Mayday complete with dancing, music, and may poles. In many of Shakespeare’s works like A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Mayday is seen to be a guiding force for the play. C.L Barber discusses the importance of Mayday in all of Shakespeare’s comedies in this book of literary criticism:
Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom by C. L. Barber, with a new foreword by Stephen Greenblatt
In this classic work, acclaimed Shakespeare critic C. L. Barber argues that Elizabethan seasonal festivals such as May Day and Twelfth Night are the key to understanding Shakespeare’s comedies. Brilliantly interweaving anthropology, social history, and literary criticism, Barber traces the inward journey–psychological, bodily, spiritual–of the comedies: from confusion, raucous laughter, aching desire, and aggression, to harmony. Revealing the interplay between social custom and dramatic form, the book shows how the Elizabethan antithesis between everyday and holiday comes to life in the comedies’ combination of seriousness and levity.
So whether you are marching in a parade or dancing around a may pole, or even just spending the day outside in the sun, happy Mayday!