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May Day


May Day has a long history as a festival, dating back to the days of Druids and pagans. The ancient Romans celebrated it with a five-day festival. By the Middle Ages, every European village had a maypole. In America, a tradition began of children making baskets from wallpaper samples and colored paper, and picking wildflowers to fill them. The baskets were placed on the doorknobs of neighbors. But May Day also came to be known as a day of worker solidarity, frequently a date for protests to lobby for better working conditions. This connection with labor was formed by accident.

By the 1880s, the labor force was organizing and demanding an eight-hour workday. In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions held a convention in Chicago. The members of the convention declared that eight hours would constitute a legal day’s work as of May 1, 1886. When that date arrived with no progress towards a shorter work day, 200,000 workers went on strike in what came to be known as the Haymarket Affair. The protest continued for several days, with violence breaking out on May 3rd. In 1889, the International Socialist Conference declared May 1 to be a holiday for workers.

May Day was often marked by violent confrontations between strikers and police. On this date in 1922, the Bismarck Tribune reported on protests around the world. In Germany, an American Army captain was injured when he inadvertently drove into a May Day procession. The police managed to rescue him. In Budapest, opposition political candidates hired bodyguards to protect them from thugs who broke up gatherings by throwing cabbages and tomatoes.

But on that May Day of 1922, all was quiet in North Dakota. A small percentage of coal miners were out on strike, but most of the mines in the state were not affected. There was high demand for experienced workers of all types, and farmers were so desperate for help that they were willing to take on completely inexperienced workers.

And with the spring construction season beginning, there was also demand for highway projects. This increased need resulted in higher wages and lower worker discontent. The newspaper was confident that the high demand for workers, combined with higher wages, would decrease the likelihood of worker protests in North Dakota.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


The Bismarck Tribune. “Everything is Quiet in N.D. on May Day.” “Bouncers Employed by Politicians.” “Yank Captain Shot During Demonstration.” 1 May, 1922.

Time. “The Bloody Story of How May Day Became a Holiday for Workers.” Time.com Accessed 1 April, 2017.

Industrial Workers of the World. “The Brief Origins of May Day.” "http://www.iww.org/history/library/misc/origins_of_mayday" http://www.iww.org/history/library/misc/origins_of_mayday Accessed 1 April, 2017.