Saturday, 5 February 2011

Mayday for May Day!

As if to add insult to injury for everything else it is doing - wrecking public services, persecuting the disabled and turfing hundreds of thousands of people out of work - the Coalition Government now proposes to abolish the May Day Bank Holiday. Instituted in 1978 to mark International Workers Day, the holiday, the first Monday in May, is one of eight public/bank holidays which British employers must by law give their staff as paid leave. It often comes not long after Easter with its 2 public holidays and is also matched on the last Monday of May with another bank holiday for the Queen's Birthday (she has two, her biological one and this one to mark her Coronation in 1953).

May Day - international solidarity
Tight as ever, the Tories and Lib Dems are apparently worried about the cost to the country of having so many holidays close to each other - who knows, apparently some people use their discretionary annual leave at the same time so they might be off work for as much as a couple of weeks! There is obviously also an ideological angle in that the Tories do not like the idea of celebrating workers' solidarity, especially when foreigners might be involved.

So, although these cost concerns have not stopped us having an extra bank holiday on 29 April to celebrate the nuptials of the lovely royal couple William Windsor and Kate Middleton, the Government is now consulting on ending the May Day holiday and replacing it sometime in October with a "UK Day". This nationalist inspired idea is a sort of sop to people who grumble that the English can't celebrate St George's Day apparently because it has been banned on grounds of political correctness. This is an utter load of baloney, as evidenced by the extreme number of St George's flags that are flown on the day along with various celebrations, but lets not let the facts get in the way of some good old right wing mythology.

Dangerously subversive - Maypole dancers
Premier Cameron of course will insist the new holiday is to celebrate "Britishness" as opposed to Englishness alone, but why should this national day be at the expense of an international day? Moreover, May Day has also been an important British celebration of Spring for centuries - as the tradition of Maypole dancing shows. Steeped in ancient pagan traditions, it has marked an important change in the seasons and welcomed the rebirth of Nature after its winter sojourn. Why scrap a day with such doubly important significance and positive connotations? Especially as one of the days touted for a new bank holiday - 21 October - is to commemorate the slaughter of the Battle of Trafalgar, about as negatively  xenophobic and jingoistic as you could get.

May Day is in fact also the anniversary of the union of England and Scotland in 1707 and the creation of the United Kingdom - so Cameron displays his appalling historical ignorance (or, more likely, deliberate ideological dissimulation) by suggesting a UK day for later in the year. But if we really need a specific national day of some sort, haven't we already got one in the shape of the Queen's Birthday Holiday at the end of May? She is the Head of State, so the time given over to marking the start of her reign would be the logical time to use to mark some other form of national day. If any day is to be scrapped and moved to the autumn, why not this one?

Cromwell - Time for a Republican Day?
Levellers' Day is in May while the Peasant's Revolt was in June so, worthy as they are of commemoration, if we want a new autumn holiday, they don't qualify. Therefore, rather than marking the blood-soaked Trafalgar Day, why not more positively choose 3 September?

This would, like May Day, have a double meaning - it could mark the first full day of peace after the end of the Second World war in 1945. Additionally, for those of us who might like to, it could also celebrate the death of Oliver Cromwell, who passed away that day in 1658. This could commemorate not Cromwell himself, but rather the short-lived British Republic and the spirit of freedom and radical thought that flowered albeit briefly in the war against the tyranny of the Divine Right of Kings.

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