Rites of Spring: #MayDay

Human animals have at least as many seasonal habits as our less verbal counterparts (ahem, other mammals). We stuff our faces to prepare for winter, sleepwalk all the way through “the dark season,” and then hop straight into cleaning, organizing, and mating when the sun finally comes out again. One other rite of spring: Americans’ blissful ignorance of International Workers’ Day – aka today, May 1st – in favor of fall’s supposedly more benign Labor Day.

Depiction of the Haymarket Riot, 1886. Chicago Historical Society.

International Workers’ Day, as you may or may not know, commemorates the 1886 Haymarket Riot in Chicago, which began with a peaceful protest for the right to an 8-hour workday. At some point during the protest, someone threw dynamite at the police, who then began to fire indiscriminately into the crowd. In the end, over ten protestors and police officers were dead. A few years later, the first congress of France’s Second International, an organization of socialist and labor parties, called for international demonstrations to celebrate the riot’s anniversary, and the modern incarnation of International Workers’ Day (May Day) was born—i.e., celebrated as a holiday by nearly 80 countries outside the United States, but not the U.S. itself.

Occupy Banner, May Day 2012, Vancouver, Canada.

Will May 1st, 2012, be any different? The Occupy movement has called for a general strike in cities across the U.S., including Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York. Actions were originally planned to shut down the Golden Gate Bridge in support of the Golden Gate Bridge Labor Coalition’s plan to strike; the GGBLC has gone on record to ask their supporters to keep the bridge open. Late last night, protesters gathered in Dolores Park, San Francisco (the heart of the Mission district) and marched down the streets, breaking car and shop windows along the way.

"May Day in Los Angeles, 1980," Mark Vallen, 1980. Print from 35mm Diapositive. 6.5 x 9.75 inches. This photograph was taken in L.A.'s MacArthur Park just moments before the Los Angeles Police Department attacked a large crowd celebrating International Workers' Day. The rally had been the first significant May Day demonstration to take place in L.A. since the 1960s. Recently on view at the Morono Kiang Gallery's "Faraway, So Close" exhibit, Los Angeles.

In honor of International Worker’s Day, a holiday meant to champion not just the achievements of workers but the potential of mass protest to transcend vandalism, especially against unfair and inhumane treatment by employers, #hashtags is asking you to submit your favorite piece of labor-related art to hashtags@dailyserving.com. We’ll add as many images as we can throughout the day (permissions willing).

Happy May Day, everyone.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles, "Washing/Tracks/Maintenance," 1973. Mierle's 1969 "Manifesto for Maintenance Art" decried what she called the "death instinct" of the avant-garde, and focused instead on the "life instinct." Her projects were mostly performative in nature, including "Washing/Tracks/Maintenance," in which she cleaned the public steps of a museum.


Fred Wilson, "Guarded View," 1991. Four mannequins with museum guard uniforms; mannequins 75 x 48 x 166 in.; collection, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; photo: Dan Meyers.


Okay Mountain, "Torture Gym," 2011. Mixed media.


Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," 1971.


Gordon Parks, "American Gothic, Washington D. C.", 1942.