The Multiple Meanings of May Day: From Ancient Traditions to College Celebrations
by Suzette....

I vaguely remember occasionally celebrating May Day as a kid. We learned a bit about the Maypole at school, and once or twice we delivered May Baskets to friends with my grandmother. But the “holiday” was never really understood or observed. Out of sheer curiosity, I later discovered May Day’s ancient history, more contemporary forms, and the reasons why we no longer celebrate it – in the United States anyway.   There are, of course, various explanations of May Day available to the avid Googler, but it seems we can settle on a few facts. First, the first of May is one of the four “cross-quarter” days and has astronomical meaning as the mid-way point between the spring equinox and summer solstice. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans marked the first of May as the end of winter and beginning of summer, and organized large celebrations centered around agricultural practices to ensure the fertility of crops. The Romans also honored Flora, the goddess of flowers, to represent new growth and fertility. Such gatherings also involved dramatic performances, the selection of a May Queen, and various competitions.   As these traditions made their way north in Europe, they collided with the Celtic fire ritual of Beltane. The term Beltane literally means “the return of the sun” and was marked with large bonfires around which people, largely in Ireland and Scotland, would dance and run their livestock to welcome the sun back from its long winter imprisonment. Other May Day traditions (known as Walpurgis) were common across other parts of northern Europe and Germany.   Because these traditions had their roots in pagan customs, they were eventually abolished as Christianity spread across the European continent. But by the mid-17th century they returned, particularly in England, Ireland and Scotland under King Charles II. The primary tradition from the ancient period that persisted into the modern era is the decorating of a Maypole with brightly colored ribbons and flowers to represent the coming summer.   By the late 19th century, however, May Day became a symbol of worker’s rights and a labor holiday in much of Europe. The roots of the worker’s movement that claimed this day, however, are in the United States. In 1886, a labor protest in Chicago led to a bombing and bloody massacre in Haymarket Square. What came to be known as the Haymarket Affair spawned a global movement for an eight-hour workday and other labor protections, as well as the declaration in 1889 by the International Socialist Conference that May 1st would be designated International Workers’ Day.


Happy International Workers’ Day!  

Monday, May 1st was May Day. When I was a kid, we knew May Day as the day you put together cute little flower baskets to leave on neighbors’ doorsteps. But when I got older, I learned the day had a deeper meaning: International Workers’ Day. This holiday was established in 1889 to commemorate what came to be known as the Haymarket Affair, the day in 1886 on which Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada decided to begin a workers’ strike demanding an eight-hour workday. After three peaceful days, protests in Chicago’s Haymarket Square devolved into violence, as fighting broke out between police and strikebreakers on one side, and anarchists on the other. From 1889 onward, May Day served as a day of protest in the continued fight for the eight-hour workday (one that wasn’t won until 1916). Since 1916, the day has played host to yearly strikes, protests, and celebrations, and has particular meaning for labor unions, as well as Socialist, Communist, and Anarchist groups. Source: Al Jazeera  

This May 1st in the US, the activist group Cosecha organized a strike called “A Day Without Immigrants” to highlight the contributions of immigrant workers in the face of the Trump administration’s harsh rhetoric and policies against them. Thousands of immigrants marched in cities across the country, and a number of businesses closed their doors in a show of solidarity. In addition to this strike, around the world in cities from Paris to Istanbul to Moscow to Havana, many other May Day marches and celebrations were held in support of workers everywhere.

May Day Art Gallery
on Pinterest
by Jacque
Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! Sending out an SOS
on Campus
by Suzette....

Without any trouble we can all probably recall a famous scene in a movie or television show where someone flying a plane or captaining a ship sends out a distress call of “mayday, mayday, mayday” as a cry for help. This humorous scene from the movie Airplane even demonstrates the confusion that might result from the use of the term. All kidding aside, however, a sense of distress and a call for help is no laughing matter.   The use of the word mayday as a call for help originated in the early 1920s when airplane pilots and air traffic controllers needed to replace the SOS distress made by Morse code call (… --- …) with a term that could be more easily transmitted by voice. The term mayday is actually the English version of the French word m’aidez or m’aider, which literally translates as “help me.” It became standard practice to repeat the word three times in succession to ensure its proper transmission.   While we don’t use this term in our daily lives, the sentiment still applies: many who work and go to school on college campuses are, on occasion, distressed and need help. Unfortunately, in mental health crises, it’s not as simple as calling “mayday.” There has been much discussion as of late that university students are more and more likely to need mental health services during their college years. Mental distress on campus has particularly been of grave concern since the tragic shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, which left 32 people dead and 17 wounded. The gunman turned out to be a troubled Virginia Tech student. Although a few faculty and classmates had raised concerns regarding his behavior and statements, and despite the student having been briefly hospitalized for making suicidal comments, it seems he did not receive adequate mental health treatment. Of course, not every mental health case leads to violence, and avoiding every potential case of tragic violence would be nearly impossible.


Duquesne Adjunct Union Wins Major Decision, but the Battle is Far from Over
by Maura

In recent years, even as college tuition costs balloon, many universities have still been making cuts in spending, particularly in states where education funding has been slashed to the bone. One area noticeably affected by tightening college budgets is faculty salaries. It will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been on the job market lately: in recent years, American universities have drastically reduced their number of tenure-track faculty positions with benefits, instead relying more and more upon adjunct and lecturer positions, which are typically contingent (meaning temporary and insecure), part-time, and low-paying – with no benefits to speak of.   According to the American Association of University Professors, these types of positions continue to make up a bigger and bigger part of the academic workforce, with more than 50 percent of all faculty appointments currently classified as part-time (a figure that includes graduate student teachers). Yet despite the growing reliance on adjunct labor, wages for these positions remain almost unconscionably stagnant. And though cuts in government funding are a factor, the AAUP notes that many institutions simply choose not to prioritize livable wages and benefits for part-time faculty, instead investing more money in technology and facilities.   Due to the proliferation of these unstable, neglected positions, part-time adjuncts and lecturers have begun to organize in the past five years. But it’s been an uphill battle. One of the most widely reported on cases is that of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA, where adjunct faculty voted to form a union in 2012. The Duquesne group has been particularly resilient due to backing from the United Steelworkers of America – the largest industrial union in the country. But still, the university’s administration showed little willingness to recognize them, even in 2013 when the death of beloved 83-year-old adjunct Margaret Mary Vojtko, who had been living in extreme poverty despite 25 years of service in the school’s French department, brought nationwide attention to their fight.