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The Guardian May Day is not about Maypoles: the History of International Workers' Day

by Richard Seymour  |  05/01/2012

If you see a history of May Day in the newspapers this year, it is most likely to recount the mystical, medieval origins of a pagan fertility festival. And though you may never have seen a maypole in your life, you will be assured that a ribboned piece of birchwood is the sign and sanction of May Day.

Yet this has little to do with the reason that 1 May is celebrated in Britain, or why it is an international holiday, or why the Occupy movement is planning "global disruption" today. May Day is international workers day. As such, it is – in the words of Eric Hobsbawm – "the only unquestionable dent made by a secular movement in the Christian or any other official calendar". And its past is more rowdy than is suggested by the imagery of Morris dancers serenely waving hankies and bells around.

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