Thursday, May 01, 2008


May 1st is May Day

by Larry Geller
May 1 is May Day.

Martin Luther King Day is Martin Luther King Day. Mothers Day is Mothers Day, etc.

Why is this one day co-opted as "Lei Day," "Law Day," or anything else but May Day?

Could be a corporate plot. But May Day will survive Lei Day. Here's some evidence of its strength:

Thousands of dockworkers at West Coast ports stayed off the job on Thursday in what their union said was a call for an end to the war in Iraq.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union said more than 25,000 members in 29 ports stayed off the job. The action came despite an order issued Wednesday by an arbitrator directing the union to tell its members to report for work as usual in response to a request from employers.

“Longshore workers are standing down on the job and standing up for America,” Bob McEllrath, the union’s president, said in a statement. “We’re supporting the troops and telling politicians in Washington that it’s time to end the war in Iraq.” [Dockworkers Protest Iraq War, New York Times, May Day/2008]

From the Wikipedia:

There are many examples in the U.S. of people honoring both May 1's "Green Root" (pagan) and "Red Root" (labor) traditions. Among the largest is the May Day Parade and Pageant created by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, an event that has taken place every year since 1974 in Minneapolis and now attracts some 35,000 people.

In 2006, May 1 was chosen by mostly Latino immigrant groups in the United States as the day for the Great American Boycott, a general strike of immigrant workers and supporters to protest H.R. 4437, immigration reform legislation which they felt was draconian. In various news media, the strike actions were publicly said to have been timed to coincide with International Workers' Day. On May 1, 2007, a mostly peaceful demonstration in Los Angeles in support of immigrant workers ended with a widely televised assault by LAPD officers.

In March 2008, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union announced that dockworkers will move no cargo at any West Coast ports on May 1, 2008, as a protest against the continuation of the Iraq War and the diversion of resources from domestic needs.


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I may be wrong but my impression was that May Day pre-dated it’s labor roots and was celebrated as a spring festival in Europe with bright colors of the May-Pole and the prevalent spring flowers... and Hawai`i picked up the tradition in the 1800’s with the “May Day is Lei Day in Hawai`i” expression coming from that era.

Okay. I just want to get the facts straight on this. Anglo-Europeans have celebrated spring/summer in Europe since before the rise of capitalism and, hence, labor.

May Day as the international workers' day came into existence celebrating U.S. trade union's resolution adopting the 8-hour work day starting on May 1, 1886. May 3, 1886 was the day anarchists organized a mass demonstration at the Haymarket Square to protest a massacre against striking workers on May 2nd. May 1st has become an international workers' day except in the U.S. and Canada.

Lei Day was started in Honolulu in 1927 (although official accounts place it as 1928, it was 1927. The City and County co-opted it in 1928). The territory made it an official holiday in 1929.

While I disagree with Andy's history, I do think the creation of lei day does highlight the territorial hegemony and its uses to get consent of the oppressed.

The 1920s was when anti-picketing laws were enacted and Filipino sugar workers protested. Naturally, May Day as a day celebrating international labor would threaten the hegemony.

The early territorial period in Hawaii showed the beginning of the commodification of Hawaiian culture which coincided with folklorism and neopaganism movements in American and Europe.

Naturally, while the government needed the voting Hawaiians consent to govern, making these cosmetic celebrations -- lei making, giving and wearing are Hawaiian cultural practices -- was able to "cover" the massive unrest with labor.

It wasn't that Hawaiians were not laborers. Its just that with most of the dead from Euro-American disease, they were a minority compared to the massive influx of immigrant labor. However, other imperialistic laws prevents Asians from voting so Lei Day was a way for the hegemony to put a wedge between Hawaiians and Asians in Hawai'i.

However, it should be noted that after several years of Lei Day taking root, its purpose for the hegemonic order became useless when the Massie case unified Hawaiians and Asians under the new nationalism of "local."

Lei Days role in Hawai'i, I think is complex, and needs further investigation -- based upon the actual historical record.

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