A Report on the May Day Project

Bob James

My introduction to the Sydney Labour History Society came via Len Fox, who found himself too busy to respond positively to a request from a group of enthusiasts at Fondazione Giacomo Brondolini, Milano, for Australian participation in this Project. I had already decided to explore the possibility of writing a PhD on the history of May Day in Australia so when Len asked me to try to meet the Italian request, after discussions with the Sydney Society, I agreed with alacrity. The Sydney Society’s executive was encouraging, even offering $100 towards photographic and related costs. This was in 1987.

The source of the Project was of course an interest in celebrating, in 1990, one hundred years at least of May Day and the wording from Milan was sufficiently vague to allow discourse on the full historical sweep as well as initiatives around a region’s own reflections on the past and desires to renovate ‘Labour Day’, to be fed into the Project’s publishing program.

The major problem, which still exists, and which became apparent very quickly was a lack of primary research. This prevented my meeting the Project’s request by the deadline and meant that I had to edit already published material and immediately-available graphics. Fortunately the work already done by Len, Mervyn Copley from Newcastle, and Sam Merrifield, plus some of ‘my’ anarchist material proved adequate, without being exciting. For whatever reason, none of the May Day Committees around Australia responded to my request for information on the celebration of their area. The ACFU, likewise, has not responded to my suggestions about May Day commemorative ‘events’, and a request for money!, which I wrote, I think, in 1988. (A smallish ‘1890’ Conference at Wollongong Uni, a special issue of Recorder and a celebration at Barcaldine in May 1991, contrasts with a month-long programme of commemorative events, film festival, book-launch, 2-day Conference and recreation of the original 1890-procession, all part of the Trades Union History Project for New Zealand in October, 1990). In the meantime my unrealistic thesis proposal has been reduced in scope to the Hunter River District, 1860- 1940, which means that it is about Eight Hour Day as well as May Day.

I submitted news items to the Project Newsletter, being published in various languages, a 500-word ‘Recent May Days in Australia’, published in Newsletter 3, and the Australian segment for the massive 77te Memory of May Day: An Iconographic History of the Origins and Implanting of a Workers’ Holiday. (1989, pp. 776) The scope of the international network involved in this and other outcomes of the Project, and the clear value of the work undertaken can most easily, here, be indicated by my listing the contents of Newsletters published so far:

Newsletter No 1

  • Antoniolli, May Day Bibliography – Periodicals
  • G Ginex, May Day Iconography – Methodology Research and Proposals on Cataloguing.
  • Archivio Audiovisivo del Movimento Operaio e Democratico,
  • May Day Investigation: Proposals For an Audio-Visual Research Instituto Ernesto de Martino, Proposal for a Filing of Sound Sources on May Day History.
  • A Picture of May Day At Its Beginnings – Proposal of a Reprint on the First May Day Demonstrations in Europe.
  • News on May Day
  • Instituto Ernesto de martino, Proposal for a Filing of Sound Sources on May Day History.
  • A Picture of May Day At Its Beginnings – Proposal of a Reprint on thc First May Day Demonstrations in Europe.
  • News on May Day.
  • Institutes and Scholars interested in the Project. (Over 27countries).

Newsletter No 2

  • J Jemnitz, Presentation of the Book: “The Birth of the 1 of May” (Budapest).
  • M Antonioli, A Bibliographic and Iconographic List on the Special Numbers of May Day (Italy, 1890-1924)
  • F Dolci – G Ginex, General Introduction to the Finding Card for Single Numbers and Ordinary and Special Supplements
  • V Kolomiez, The Institute of International Labour Studies of the USSR Academy of Sciences on the Centenary of May Day.
  • A Bibliography of Russian and Soviet Literature on the History of May Day.
  • (Various), Research on European Reactions to May 1886 Events in the United States.
  • B. Cartosio, The Haymarket Centennial in Chicago.
  • R. Ameruso – G. Spigarelli, May Day and Women in the
  • “Avanti” (Indications for research)
  • O. Sillier, A Proposal for a Documentary History on May Day.

Newsletter No 3

  • B. James, Recent May Days in Australia.
  • B. Roth, May Day in New Zealand (An Historical Sketch)
  • M. AntonioIli, Presentation of the Book: Vieni 0 Maggio, Aspcui del Primo Maggio in Italia tra OUo e Novecento
  • A. Ouaderno issued by Fondazione Brodolini: International Celebrations of May Day.
  • A. Panaccione, From the Introduction to the Ouaderno.
  • K. Dyck – JJ Kruger, The Project ‘100 Years of 1st of May in Bremen.’
  • R. Vecoli, A Proposal for a Research Project on ‘II Primo Maggio e gli Italiani negli Stati Uniti d’America, 1890-1945’.
  • M. Linciano, Information System for Automatic Management on Data Concerning May Day Bibliography.
  • News.

Newsletter No 4

  • C. da Fonseca, Lc Premier Mai sous la Dictature Salazarienne.
  • Two Poems on May Day by Australian Poets.
  • G Giacoia, May Day in the German Federal Republic as Seen by the Immigrants.
  • M. Fincardi, Popular Culture and May Day Ritual in the Province of Reggio Emilia, (1890-1924).
  • V. Kolomiez, Latest Research on the History of May Day in the Soviet Union.
  • Fonda7ione Giacomo Brodolini, The Memory of May Day.

Newsletter No 5

  • G. CalIesen, Some Books on the May Day Celebrations in Denmark.
  • A Story of the Eight Hours Struggle and May Day in India.
  • M. Grass, Jhalmar Branting und der 1 Mai, 1890-1924. Eine Dokumentation.
  • L. Watson, Primo Maggio in the Italian American Anarchist Press.
  • A. Panaccione, From the Introduction to The Memory of May Day.
  • News.

Newsletter No 6

  • G. Ginex, May Day Iconographic File: State of Funds and Cataloguing.
  • G. Van Goethem, Le Centenaire du ler Mai en Belgique.
  • V. Kolomiez, Soviet Historiography on May Day of the Centenary of the Second International.
  • G. Donno, A ‘May Day’ Conference.
  • Meeting in Milan for May Day Centennial Celebration April 9-10-11, 1990.
  • News.