By: Jože Biščak
The year was 1941 and it was the eve of May 1st. War was raging in Europe, National Socialist Germany and Bolshevist Russia were still allies, so Slovenian Communists and National Socialists celebrated together, which is logical; Labour Day is a socialist holiday, and both National Socialists and Communists have their roots in Marxist ideology, which despises capitalism.
The stories woven by all three totalitarian ideologies of the 20th century around Labour Day are myths. It is one of the most stubborn myths, which took hold mainly with the help of socialist trade unions, and even the majority of right-wing (conservative) intellectuals believe in it through indoctrination through the education system. The truth is somehow different.
The making of a myth
First about what the myth is about. May 1st is an international Labour Day celebrated in most countries (with the exception of the USA) and a commemoration of the demonstrations in Chicago, USA in 1886, better known as the Haymarket Riots. The trade unions demanded an 8-hour working day (this was enforced only later), in commemoration of this event, the first of May as Labour Day was first celebrated in the socialist Soviet Union and the idea spread around the world.
Over the decades, they created the myth that the trade unions, which had a hinterland in the socialist labour parties, and were ideologically fed by Karl Marx (ironically, this man never worked in his life and lived at the expense of the Engels family, he also died due to overeating), achieved the greatest victory in history 130 years ago. If there were no trade unions then, as we were taught and are still being persuaded, we would still be working 10 or 12 hours every day, all week, all year round. This, of course, is nonsense. The events at that time have nothing to do with the 8-hour working time, the 8-8-8 formula (eight hours of work, eight hours of leisure, and 8 hours of rest) was established by capitalism (agreement between employer and employee), without the intervention of a third party (trade unions).
A shorter working day
The annual applause at the bonfire and meat patty and the violent speeches of radical trade unionists, which reaches its peak during the celebration at Ljubljana’s Rožnik, is therefore pathetic. Even the media mainstream glorifies unions uncritically and without any knowledge of history, saying how great they are, because without them workers today would be without any rights and would work longer for greedy capitalists. The whole thing is also tragicomic because such a celebration is a caricature at which a sane person can only smile.
Negotiations between the owner of the company and the workers about the 8-hour working time (40 hours per week) took place even before the Haymarket riots and also afterwards. Governments only legislated such a working day when it was already dominant on the (free) market, because (especially in industry) it proved to be the most efficient and, if you will, brought even greater profits to the capitalist than longer working hours. Therefore, let’s take a look at two cases that trade unionists purposely forget, but in fact had a significant impact on the reduction of working hours.
The triumph of the free market
The first event took place in the years 1840 and 1841, and George Hunter (then a naval agent, later mayor) and Samuel Duncan Parnell are responsible for it. When they arrived in Wellington, New Zealand, on a ship, Hunter asked Parnell if he would build him a shop on Lambton Quay (once known as Beach Street, now a business district). Parnell accepted, but he had a condition: he would only work eight hours a day. His philosophy was that a person should work eight hours a day, sleep eight hours, and have eight hours of free time. Although Hunter offered Parnell more money, Parnell persisted. The customer of the abomination of the store was angry, but he had no choice. There were only three carpenters in Wellington, so he accepted the offer. This weekday spread quickly in New Zealand. It did not need unions, it did not need legislation, but a simple agreement between two people. It was their free choice. Both Hunter and Parnell were later successful: Hunter as a merchant and mayor, Parnell as a farmer. It was a victory for the free market.
Another example is from the USA. The shorter working day had not yet been legislated when the industrialist Henry Ford freely and without unions decided on an 8-hour workday in 1914, increasing the hourly rate from about $2.50 to about $5. Productivity increased; profits grew from $30 million a year to $60 million. The trade unions had absolutely nothing to do with his decision, but other industrialists followed him. No coercion, no legislation, no socialists and communists and their unions.
May 1st is leftist iconography
This is why May 1st as a union victory for the 8-hour workday is a myth, one of the most fundamental lies of the left, which has spread so far that it is considered truth today. This “victory” has nothing to do with unions, nothing to do with socialism and other leftist shenanigans. It was a win-win arrangement, the 8-hour workday was simply a matter of supply and demand, especially the demand for highly skilled labour brought about by the Industrial Revolution. If there were enough adequate and skilled labour, no one could force the capitalist (in free countries) to reduce working hours (as happened later with the legalisation of the 40-hour work week, but at that time almost everyone was already on such a work schedule). Since there was none, the best had to offer more favourable working conditions, otherwise he could close his factory.
May 1st today
Today, Labour Day is an official holiday in almost seventy countries, but it is celebrated unofficially in many others. Ironically, May 1st is not a holiday in the US, where it all started. Across the pond, they have Labour Day on the first Monday in September, and on the first of May they celebrate “Law Day”, celebrating the role of law in the creation of the United States of America.
Elsewhere, May 1st is accompanied by left-wing (socialist) symbols. Riots break out in quite a few countries, fuelled by various anarchist movements and Antifa. It is more peaceful in Slovenia. In addition to the flags of the Socialist International, red stars and other communist iconography, in some places they also have a Labour Day reveille, lighting bonfires on the eve. The smell of čevapčici spreads, the air is filled with vapours of cheap wine. Speakers line up, ensembles fire up partisan songs, Yugonostalgics come forward and tell their younger colleagues about their experiences in the socialist country. Somehow, they do not forget to mention how things used to be good and everything was great, that everyone had a regular job, and everyone could afford a vacation. Today, according to them, it is different, because evil and greedy capitalists are driving people into poverty. Sometimes it seems that these people have mistaken May 1st for April 1st.
The mythological background of May 1st
May 1st has been celebrated for a long time. Being roughly halfway between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice, it has long been considered an appropriate time to mark the transition to summer. In fact, in most of medieval northern Europe (meaning the Celtic calendar), May 1st was the start of summer. At that time, the seeds for the crops had just been sown (so that the farmers and their workers could take a short break), and it was time to drive the cattle and sheep to the summer pastures. Both sprouting crops and grazing livestock needed divine protection from the dangers of the natural and supernatural worlds, so May 1st developed as a holiday and took on associated rituals and mythology. And the goddess was a good person to deal with such human concerns.
The goddess of today’s Labour Day dates back to ancient times, to Anatolia, Greece, and Rome. Spring goddesses began to be worshiped in the two Roman festivals that led to our Labour Day.
The first of these spring festival goddesses was Hilaria (Greek for happy). The holiday was celebrated between the vernal equinox and April 1st when the celebration ended. And perhaps this very April 1st, which we consider to be the day of fools, is the origin of our first April (people had a “joke” celebration). This has obvious parallels with May and Labour Day celebrations.
Another of the goddesses is Flora. She was the goddess of flowers and spring. She may have originally been a Sabine goddess, of whom we know nothing more than that the spring month of the Sabine calendar (Flusalis) was named after her, and that her altar was said to have been erected in Rome by the Sabine king Tatius during the legendary period of his joint reign in Rome with Romulus.
The background of the celebration of the divine May 1st also received Christian additions. In Germany, on May 1st (April 30th), called Hexennacht (“Halloween”), witches are said to gather on the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, to carry out their evil plans (after the advent of Christianity, they were said to associate with the devil). Their plans were then thwarted by protective May 1st rituals. Over time, this day became known as Walpurgis Night, named after the abbess of St. Walpurgis (ca. 710-778), who is said to be instrumental in bringing Christianity to Germany. In the 18th century, May 1st began to be celebrated as the feast of the Virgin Mary, in 1955 Pope Pius XII. introduced May 1st as the holiday of Jožef Delavec.