Friday, May 02, 2008

Mayday, Mayday, Chickenhawkdown.

Striking at Chickenhawks
Guardian, Comment is Free 1 May 2008

T'was long ago, and in another country. Besides, the day is, if not dead, not what it was. In my youth, much of Liverpool downed tools to celebrate May Day and marched behind the scarlet banners bright. They continued to do so, even when a Labour government introduced a May Day holiday, but made it the first Monday in May. In the boring new world of Labour, I checked and discovered that this year the Liverpool unions will wait until the evening for the May Day march so they can assemble after work.

But even that attenuated display is bigger than in the US, where May Day is now commemorated by a handful of diehard Anglo Socialists and a larger number of immigrant and minority who perhaps have not been informed that in the US May Day, declared after the first world war to be Americanisation Day, is now Loyalty Day by decree of the president.

It is likely that the Puritans of New England, like their dour colleagues left in the mother country, frowned upon May Day celebrations: maypoles, Morris dancing, Queen of the May and hey nonny-nonny-no in the bushes. It was worse than pagan, it was Papist, since the Roman Church had, as usual, dressed the orgiastic event in catholic clothes, with and tied the May Queen to the Virgin Mary.

As HL Mencken suggested, Puritanism was based upon the sneaking suspicion that someone somewhere was having a good time, and on May Day, people did just that. Even so, the day had enough resonance to be reincarnated by the unions to commemorate the birth of the struggle for the eight-hour day - in Chicago. Across the world, the workers took the American import as their own, while back in the US, the labour movement acquiesced in making the first Monday in September Labour Day, even though it is more noted for being the end of summer than the dawn of a new era.

Now, there is a great chance for the day to come into its own. The Longshoremen of the West Coast have declared a strike against the continuing war in Iraq, bringing May Day back to where I remembered it.

And how appropriate and American an occasion May Day is, quite apart from its Chicago origins. Five years ago, a draft-dodging popinjay of a president, dressed in full combat gear, landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln to a backdrop of the banner declaring "Mission Accomplished". Before he boarded, he had made the annual proclamation declaring the day to be Loyalty Day.

In the bad old days of the Soviet Union, the military used to parade in front of the civilian leadership on May Day. In the new age of American power, the resolutely and perpetually civilian leadership of the Republican party chose to perform in front of the military. I actually have the doll of George Bush, US president and elite force Naval aviator, complete with his harness crossing at his crotch like a codpiece to give him the spurious machismo his own military career so eminently lacked.

Surely the time has come for May Day to be celebrated as Chickenhawk Day, to commemorate the folly of the deserter-in-chief and his clique, in perpetuity, or for as long as the war lasts. Whichever comes first.

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