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The month of May

The month of May is special in many ways. There is International Worker’s Day (Labour Day) on May 1, which is also the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.

There are Queens of the May in many cities, universities and other communities. They are crowned with flowers. There are colourful Maypole dancing traditions, along with other ancient customs.

Mothers’ Day has families in many countries honouring their mothers. For Catholics, the month is dedicated to our Blessed Mother Mary and people make pilgrimages to shrines in her honour.

In China, there are about 15 Marian shrines. We know about Our Lady of Sheshan in Shanghai, but recently there was a full-page article in the China Daily about a shrine in Shandong.

The headline reads, Chinese Catholic music in Huzhuang village deserves a bigger audience. 

The article is mostly about a music troupe that plays traditional Chinese instruments at Masses and in 2010, Huzhuang Chinese Catholic music was recognised as an intangible municipal cultural heritage.

The village has been Catholic since 1604 and every year 200,000 people worldwide make a pilgrimage during May to the Marian Shrine of Huzhuang (China Daily, April 19, 2012).

 

Origins of Labour Day

On 7 October 1884, workers in the United States of America (US) united to demand better treatment and more reasonable working hours. The Eight-Hour movement, as it came to be known, sought an eight-hour workday, eight hours of education and eight hours of rest.

To promote the cause, the Federation of Organised Trades and Labour Unions rallied some 200,000 workers for a large-scale strike in Chicago on 1 May 1886.

Many lives were lost in a brutal police crackdown, but the movement continued to gather momentum. Gradually, the eight-hour workday took root in businesses throughout the US, spreading eventually to the United Kingdom, France and other countries.

At the first International Labour Conference in Paris in 1889, delegates (including representatives from the Republic of China [ROC]) passed a Labour Act, which called for the use of joint strikes and diplomatic sanctions to advance the working class struggle.

During the conference, representatives of the French Socialist Party proposed that May 1 be designated as International Labour Day. Since then, workers around the world have celebrated the success of the eight-hour movement on this day, known popularly as International Labour Day, May Day, or simply, Labour Day.

The ROC labour movement began in 1919 with the founding of the nation’s first worker organisation. It quickly spread throughout the country, particularly in Guangzhou, bringing with it labour unions.

On 29 March 1923, the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce passed temporary general regulations governing factory work (Google/gov.tw/info).

 

St. Joseph the Worker

Pope Pius XII instituted this feast in 1955. St. Joseph and the cause of workers has a long history. In a constant struggle to keep Jesus from being removed from ordinary human life, the Church has always emphasised that he was a carpenter, obviously trained by Joseph in both the satisfaction and the drudgery of that vocation.

Humanity is like God, not only in thinking and loving, but also in creating. Whether we build a table or a cathedral, we are called to bear fruit with our hands and minds, ultimately for the building up of the Body of Christ.

 

Genesis 2: 15, 41:44

“The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.” The Father created all and asked humanity to continue the work of creation.

We find our dignity in our work, in raising a family, in participating in the life of the Father’s creation. St. Joseph the Worker was able to help participate in the deepest mystery of creation.

Pope Pius XII emphasised this when he said, “The Spirit flows to you and to all from the heart of the God-man, Saviour of the world, but certainly, no worker was ever more completely and profoundly penetrated by it than the foster father of Jesus, who lived with him in closest intimacy and community of family life and work. Thus, if you wish to be close to Christ, we again today repeat, ‘Go to Joseph’” (American Catholic.org).

 

Workers of today

We must Go to Joseph every time we pick up a newspaper, or learn from other media that many workers in our world today sweat in crowded and dangerous factories, working much longer than the eight hours.

They are exposed to toxic poisons used in the processing of food, medicine, milk and even clothing.

There are cancer-causing plastic additives in food and drink products. Last year, more than 4,800 beverage bottles suspected of contamination were recalled by Beijing’s top quality watchdog (China Daily, 5/31/11).

Some workers who make fashion jeans are exposed to harsh and often dangerous chemicals every day.

In the cleaning section, workers use strong bleaches and detergents, but are often uneducated as to their dangers or how to handle them properly.

Part of the washing process is known as the sand-wash, in which the jeans are sprayed with sand through an air-powered gun. Thus, workers are constantly breathing in the particles that make contact with their skin.

Sand-washed jeans are deadly for many textile workers. Their lungs are infected and many are sent home without any compensation. The non-government organisation, Bern Declaration, is working towards a worldwide ban on these jeans and convincing some stores to remove them from their shelves. These jeans can’t be good for people to wear (Jean Factory Hazards/eHow.com).

In toy factories, workers deal with heavy metals, such as lead and chromium, which can cause chronic poisoning when accumulated in the human body, according to Hu Xiaohong, a pediatrician at the No. 304 Hospital in Beijing.

Children who play these toys are in danger too, as they tend to bite and suck them (China Daily, 5/31/11).

Police in Zhejiang recently detained 23 people for allegedly producing and selling pharmaceutical capsules made from industrial gelatin containing excessive levels of chromium (China Daily, 4/19/12).

Guangzhou police have detained six people suspected of illegally producing and selling poisonous glues. The campaign, which has investigated 2,873 companies, was launched after 37 migrant workers in leather, shoe and bag companies in the Baiyun and Liwan districts, suffered from glue poisoning in November and four of them died.

Liu Yimin, vice-president of Guangzhou No. 12 People’s Hospital, said another 33 people suffering from glue poisoning had been admitted since then, 28 of whom are still being treated (Times of India, 2/17/12).

The Chinese government is cracking down on food-safety violations. Police closed down 13 underground workshops that were producing gutter oil, reprocessed oil and even restaurant leftovers to on-sell as cooking oil.

However, the new strain is made from meat that is past its sell-by date and of low quality. Even rotten animal fat and internal organs were being used.

The products were then sold and the oil used in restaurants as a base for hotpots. A lawyer in Beijing said, “Those who engage in such activities should be punished severely. Unsafe food may affect thousands of people and even destroy the health of an entire generation” (China Daily, 4 April 2012).

Foxconn, the largest supplier of Apple Inc., will remedy its workplace abuses after a US labour auditor, commissioned by Apple, inspected its three plants in China.

A report, filed by the non-profit Fair Labour Association, reveals that Foxconn employees work 56 hours a week on average, which is more than the regular 40-hour week, in addition to the 36 hours of overtime a month that they are allowed under Chinese law.

The average age of workers is 23, but there are some in their teens. The average monthly salary is 2, 250 yuan ($3,075) or even less in other plants.

Foxconn has been faced with hazards, such as blocked emergency exits and defective protective gear. It has also reduced the amount of aluminum dust in the air (China Daily, 3/31/12).

Anyone who buys a computer product made at Foxconn seems to be happy with it, but all too often we hear that young employees, unable to cope with the pressure of long working hours, crowded work spaces and cramped dormitories, jump to their deaths from the factory buildings.

These are the reasons we should Go to Joseph and pray that he will come to the aid of workers experiencing unjust and dangerous situations just to make a living.

We need to confront the evils associated with modern development and do what we can to promote a better life for all workers.

 

Maypole Dance

The Maypole Dance is another May Day tradition, especially in Europe. It welcomes the summer and celebrates the growth of new vegetation, crops and flowers.

It is a folk dance where people in colourful dress and often with flowers in their hair gather in a circle, each holding a coloured ribbon attached to a small pole.

As the dance commences, the ribbons become intertwined and plaited, either onto the Maypole itself or into a web around the pole.

People then retrace their steps in the exact same order to unravel the ribbons.

 

Mothers’ Day

May also has a special Sunday dedicated to mothers, who are honoured with the flowers of spring (in the northern hemisphere where the tradition originated), as well as in many other ways.

Last, but not least, in the Catholic tradition, we dedicate the month of May to Mary, our queen, and many children join processions and crown statues of the Blessed Mother in churches and schools.

 

 

Happy Mothers’ Day from the Holy Spirit Study Centre.