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Aldermen clash over two visions of May Day

CITY HALL – Two different resolutions offering different views of the meaning of May Day brought sharp debate at Friday’s meeting of the Board of Aldermen.

When everything was done, the board had approved a measure recognizing May 1 – Saturday – as International Workers’ Day, “and honoring the long history and contributions of the labor movement to St. Louis and the United States.” 

But another resolution honoring Saturday as National Loyalty Day failed to get enough votes under board rules to receive immediate approval. It was referred to a committee for consideration after the day of the observance. 

National Loyalty Day opponents said that holiday, first proclaimed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1959, hearkened back to the days of red baiting. Those who supported the International Workers’ Day resolution said it was a reminder of how the observance of workers’ rights started in the United States and now is marked in dozens of counties throughout the world.   

“Loyalty Day is a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom,” said the resolution, introduced by 14th Ward Alderwoman Carol Howard introduced the National Loyalty Day resolution.  

In a phone connection to the webinar meeting, Yelana Fish, said people in socialist and Communist countries celebrated May Day in a different way. “On May 1, they were celebrating the Workers’ Solidarity Day.” said Fish, who came to this country from the Soviet Union about 30 years ago. “The main goal was to start the workers’ revolution eventually.” 

Both matters began the day as courtesy resolutions, which the board could approve immediately without going to a committee for discussion. But through maneuvers on both of them, they became regular resolutions. Those require a two-thirds vote to avoid the requirement to go to a committee. 

The vote to skip the committee requirement for the Loyalty Day resolution failed 13-11. But the International Workers’ Day resolution passed, with 22 yes votes, one no vote (Howard) and two voting present. After more debate, the Workers’ Day Resolution passed in a voice vote, with no opposition.

Fifteenth Ward Alderwoman Megan Green, who introduced the International Workers’ Day resolution, said it was a simple measure that most countries recognized and that the United States recognized until the 1950s. 

Green said a part of that history is the city’s general strike of 1877, which brought the city to a standstill. Strikers demanded good working conditions and an eight hour day.

“In the labor movement that brought us up to today, I think that we’re seeing a lot of pushback, a lot of red scare tactics that are happening today in our country as a result of the gains that are happening in the labor movement,” Green said.

“We deserve an eight-hour work day. We deserve working conditions that are not putting our lives on the line,” Green said. “It’s important for us to be remembering that, and not erasing the work of these workers, not erasing the history and the legacy of unionization and the labor movement that has brought us up to today.”

The board also passed without opposition a resolution honoring Halbert Sullivan, the founder and CEO of Fathers and Families Support Center, who died at his home in St. Charles on April 15.

When he founded the group in 1997, Sullivan’s goal was to turn absent fathers into good parents.  The Fathers and Families Support Center helped more than 18,000 fathers. In turn, they assisted close to 45,000 children.  

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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