Workers Day, Beltane and Walpurgis Night

Today is Worker’s Day, and for many of us it’s just a holiday. The date stems from the decision of a US federation of unions to set May 1 1886 as the date by which the eight-hour workday was to become standard. Organised labour had struggled for many years, in many different countries, to reduce working hours, after the Industrial Revolution commonly saw 6-day weeks of up to 16 hours. Women and children (but not men) were granted 10-hour work days in England in 1847, and the French achieved 12-hour work days in 1848.

The target had not been met as the deadline of May 1 1886 drew near, and rallies and strikes were organised. In Chicago, these culminated in the Haymarket Affair (also known as the Haymarket Riot, or Haymarket Massacre), in which a number of people were killed. It is this event that cemented the day in the modern calendar, as workers groups worldwide chose to demonstrate on May 1 in commemoration of the dead.

The history of May Day though goes back far beyond this. For the Celts of Britain and Ireland, it marked the beginning of the pastoral summer season when livestock were driven out to the pastures. Druids would light fires, and both cattle and people would pass through the smoke in order to purify themselves, and ensure a good harvest. Today this is celebrated as Beltane.

Much of Northern Europe shared similar rituals. In Norse mythology, it is when Odin died to retrieve knowledge of the runes, and the night was seen as a time when the boundaries between the living and the dead became blurred. Huge bonfires were built to keep away the dead spirits that were said to walk among the living. It became known as Walpurgis Night after Saint Walpurga when the festival became Christianized in the year 710.

With all the festivities, there’s not much new happening as far as co-op offerings goes. We’ll probably still be a little short of some stock as many farmers and suppliers are affected by the holidays, but hopefully we’ll have enough for everyone to stock up after the holidays.

To order, go to www.ethical.org.za.

Have a great week.

The Co-op team