Mayday, Mayday, Mayday

May 1st could be remembered for many things. It was on this day in 1707 that the Act of Union joining England and Wales with Scotland took effect, creating the United Kingdom. It was also on May 1st that the first adhesive postage stamp, the Penny Black, was issued, creating the UK popular mail service that was used so skillfully to disseminate leaflets by the Anti Corn-Law League.

It was also the date in 1851 that Queen Victoria opened the Great Exhibition, to demonstrate the UK’s achievements to the world, and to sell them. Another great opening on the day was in 1931, when the Empire State Building was dedicated in New York. So iconic was it that it featured two years later in the classic movie, King Kong.

But mostly May 1st is hailed as International Labour Day, celebrating the achievements of working people throughout the world, and by implication, their revolutionary class struggle. It was introduced in the UK as a public (bank) holiday by the Labour government of 1978 as a sop to the unions, in a gesture it was hoped would curb their militancy. It did not.

It exacerbated an unfortunate imbalance of public holidays, already too loaded to the first half of the year. We have them on New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, and Whit Monday - now called the late May holiday. After the late August bank holiday there is nothing until Christmas on December 25th. We could usefully scrap the early May holiday (Mayday holiday) and add something in the Autumn, maybe the Monday following Trafalgar Day on October 21st.

It is not without significance that the socialist Labour Day is celebrated in the Spring, at the time of planting and promise. It is full of hope of what might be achieved. By contrast, the capitalist Labor Day celebrated in America takes place on the first Monday of September, when the harvest is in and its actual achievements can be hailed. The socialist one is of aspiration; the capitalist one is of achievement. It is a useful analogue of the results of the contrasting systems. The one is full of youthful hopes and promises; the other delivers the goods.

It is also of note that “Mayday,” (from the French “m’aidez”) is a call of distress recognized worldwide…