There's "May Day" and there's "Mayday." "May Day" is a celebration of life and renewal. For the last 125 years or so it's also served as a rallying cry for the rights of working men and women. "Mayday," on the other hand, is the international phrase which indicates that a vessel, building, or person is in imminent danger and needs help immediately.
It's May Day. Mayday.
The word "Mayday" comes from the French phrase venez m'aider: "Come help me." It dates back to 1923, an era when French was the language of diplomacy (hence the term "lingua franca") and diplomats frowned on espionage because "gentlemen do not read one another's mail."
The FAA's protocol for a distress call is to say the word "Mayday" three times. You then state your identity, the nature of the emergency, weather conditions, the pilot's intentions, your present position and heading, and "the number of souls on board."
I like the old-school charm and dignity of the word "souls," don't you? It appears in that sentence so unexpectedly, like a visitor from a more honorable and chivalrous time.
The May Day holiday began as a Pre-Christian festival of renewal in Europe. Later it was Christianized into a celebration of the Virgin Mary. You remember the Virgin Mary: She was a teenaged mother who lived in an occupied land, under a colonizing power whose rulers loathed her religion and despised her people.
And speaking of mothers and children: All across the country they're cutting assistance to lower-income households with children. Budgets for primary and high school education are being slashed. Mitt Romney says he'll cut these funds even more and boasts that he'll separate poor mothers from their kids to teach them "the dignity of work."
They're slashing public university budgets, too. As tuitions keep soaring, millions of young people lose the chance for a better life. Others have reached record levels of indebtedness to get their diploma, only to graduate into the worst employment market for young people in generations.
Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. This is the United States of America. We are abandoning our mothers and our children. Our position is unknown and the time is growing short. We have 311 million souls on board. We are in urgent need of assistance.
May Day became a labor festival in 1886, after strikes escalated into violent clashes and four marchers were shot to death by policemen in the city of Chicago. (Chicago's current mayor, corporate apparatchik Rahm Emanuel, is outsourcing his city's functions and duties to business entities.)
Historian Peter Linebaugh gives us the words to a song the strikers sang back in the 1800s:
"We want to feel the sunshine;
We want to smell the flowers;
We're sure God has willed it.
And we mean to have eight hours."
Today the eight-hour workday is being eroded through the misclassification of workers as "managerial" and the widespread hiring of workers as "contractors" instead of employees. Corporate-friendly politicians help the paymasters with bills like Sen. Kay Hagan's "Computer Professionals Overtime Act," which would disqualify many technical workers from overtime pay.
Why? Because, as the Charlotte Observer notes, "Computer giants such as IBM have invested thousands of dollars lobbying politicians to clarify labor laws that would allow them to give their computer employees more flexible work schedules, but also to stop paying them overtime."
Inflation-adjusted wages for most working people have been stagnant for decades.
Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. Working people can no longer defend their rights or negotiate for better wages. We're losing our standard of living. Our industrial cities are in ruins. The middle class is dying. We have 311 million souls on board. We are in urgent need of assistance.