Mayday festivals have been celebrated by working people since pre-Christian times. Earliest celebrations marked the beginning of summer and linked to a variety of pagan festivals including the Gaelic Beltane. In 1891, Mayday was formally adopted by the Second International as International Workers’ Day – primarily to mark the anniversary of the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, where four strikers were killed when police opened fire on a demonstration after a bomb was thrown.
Despite the gravity of this initial event, and possibly because of the links to earlier festival celebrations, the festival side of International Workers’ Day is longstanding and international, nowhere more so than Glasgow. The story of labour in the west of Scotland is peppered throughout with cultural developments – choirs from the Orpheus to the Eurydice, theatre companies from the Glasgow Workers’ Theatre to 7:84 and Wildcat. Glasgow Trades Council even once ran a film society.
It was this tradition that led to the MayFest festivals of the 1980s and 1990s and is the reason why Glasgow Friends of MayDay (GFoMD) was formed 5 years ago. Along with the Glasgow TUC and STUC, it thought it was worth organising a more co-ordinated set of events around International Workers’ Day in Glasgow. The first was in 2011, and it has grown every year. Now it reaches out to other parts of Scotland.
The festival events in Glasgow take place in the weeks before and after the Mayday weekend (this year Sat 2-Mon 4) and are organised by a wide variety of union, cultural and campaigning bodies.
Trade Union Councils throughout Scotland are continuing to organise MayDay marches and rallies on the Mayday Weekend (Sat and Sun 2/3 May). Plans and speakers are still being finalised.
The now hugely successful Great Mayday Cabaret celebrates its third anniversary at Oran Mor on the Mayday Monday (4th) evening. This year’s headliner is the celebrated Irish folk singer, Tommy Sands. Also performing are poet Elvis McGonagall, comedians Bruce Morton and Susie McCabe, actress Juliet Cadzow, singers Arthur Johnstone and Siobhan Miller, and musicians Fraser Speirs and Stephen Wright. Dave Anderson will compere.
In addition, the Friends of MayDay have commissioned a rehearsed reading of John and Willy Maley’s play, From the Calton to Catalonia (which was republished last year by Calton Books). This will start with an appropriate performance in the Calton and go on a small tour during the period including Blantyre Miners’ Welfare (1st), Irvine’s Harbour Arts centre (2nd) and Oran Mor (3rd) .
Love Music, Hate Racism have organised a gig in Glasgow’s Old Hairdressers on the evening of May 1, and are also showing the film, The Clash: Westway to the World, on Sunday 10 May at the CCA. Discussions are still going on with the Glasgow Film Theatre that may lead to other film showings, but already confirmed is the third in a series of film showings at the CCA organised by a local GMB/Apex Branch. In an attempt to link International Workers’ Memorial Day with MayDay, they are showing Ken Loach’s The Navigators on April 30.
An interesting joint project of Glasgow Museums and Glasgow University plans to get some union and campaign banners out of storage and into local communities where they were based. There people who had a connection to the struggle will tell their story. One is scheduled in Castlemilk on the afternoon of May 1 based on banners of the local Anti-Poll Tax Union, the Tailors’ and Garment Workers’ Union (there was a large clothing factory close by) and the ubiquitous Co-operative Women’s Guild. Similar events will take place in Barmulloch and Govan later.
A new MayDay tradition of walks through Glasgow’s heritage continues, with the Friends of MayDay organising a Women, War and Rent Strike walk on Saturday April 25. And the Glasgow Women’s Library has one of its Women of the Merchant City walks two weeks later (9 May).
Of course established venues often have relevant events – most obviously The Tron’s Mayfesto festival – an important part of which will be Rites, a powerful National Theatre of Scotland/Scottish Refugee Council-backed piece by Cora Bissett on female genital mutilation. David MacLennan’s legacy, A Play, a Pie and a Pint, also serves up The War hasn’t Started Yet – a view from modern Russia from May 4–9.
Amongst a number of talks and discussions from the likes of Hope not Hate, and the Scottish Cuba Solidarity Campaign, the ever-interesting Morning Star ‘Our Class, Our Culture’ series has an intriguing presentation by John Quinn of Glasgow School of Art – Portraying the Heroes of Red Clydeside in the STUC on 5 May.
Over the last five years Glasgow Friends of Mayday (GFoMD) has built on the base of the cultural history of the Glasgow labour movement. Now other organisations are joining them.
Chris Bartter is Chairperson of GFoMD.
Look out for its 2015 programme (published early April). Tickets for the (Third) Great MayDay Cabaret are on sale now from Oran Mor direct or at http://www.oran-mor.co.uk/whats-on/great-may-day-cabaret/?eID=11787