Political organization

A brief history of May Day in Olympia

by Ken Balsley

With May Day fast approaching, it might be time to put the day and date into perspective.

Many of us here in Thurston County think of May Day as when young anarchists, mostly from college, take to the streets of Olympia, causing trouble for the police, harassing local business owners and making generally the difficult task to those who try to drive. the city.

And, in fact, the young anarchists are right. May Day has traditionally been their day, and while most Americans view May Day as a communist holiday and a time to tout the benefits of socialism, May Day actually got its start in America.

However, since May 1st is a Sunday this year, I don’t expect them to cause much trouble. I think even anarchists take Sunday off.

Remember Haymarket?

Long a major holiday in European countries where it is known as International Workers’ Day, May Day celebrates the rights of workers in the production process there.

But it started in America, in 1884, when the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, later the American Federation of Labor, the AFL, called for an eight-hour workday beginning May 1, 1886.

When that day arrived, thousands of workers in hundreds of cities and towns walked off the job in protest. It ended two days later in Chicago, in Haymarket Square, when seven police officers were killed and dozens injured in a bomb blast.

No one knew who threw the bomb that killed the police, but eight anarchists were charged with the murder; four of them were later hanged for the offence.

How Labor Day Started

Due to the violence surrounding the riot, the United States; unlike European countries, have chosen to move Labor Day from May Day to the first Monday in September.

But anarchists around the world, and more than a few here in the Pacific Northwest, continue to see May Day as the time when the average working man must take back his community. They see it as an opportunity to assert their point of view.

Others see it as an opportunity to have fun, ride hell, and polish the nose of the establishment.

So if and when protests occur on May Day, attribute them to a long history of political action by young people. Or just consider spring fever and the need for a little fun. Sort of like a spring break for our local students.

But I will always remember a more innocent May Day, like the time of May baskets and kissing the girl you loved. It’s the kind of May Day that many of us yearn for.

But I guess there is more than one version of the “good old days” and May Day.

Ken Balsley is Thurston County’s longest-serving reporter. He writes regularly on his blog at kenbalsley.com and hosts “Coffee with Ken” every Sunday morning at 8 a.m. KGY 95.3 FM.