Fight for your right … to party?

The first May Day under a red government in over a decade, but do the issues matter as much as the chance to drink in the sun?

May Day is an official holiday in 66 countries around the world and unofficially celebrated in many others. It would be a safe bet to say most people celebrating the International Worker’s Day in Copenhagen’s Fælledparken on Tuesday had no clue that the day has its roots in the Haymarket Massacre that occurred in Chicago in 1886. Hell, most Americans have no idea what the day means past gauzy pictures of fresh-faced youngsters dancing around a Maypole or grainy black and white TV-induced memories of columns of grim-faced soldiers and war machines parading in front of a bearded dictator somewhere “over there”.

This year’s May Day was a special one for those whose politics lean to the left in Denmark, as it was the first in eleven years to be celebrated with a red leftist government in power. There were many people among the more than 200,000 that filled the park who only came for the warm sunshine and cold beer, and who could not have cared less about politics – left or right – but, there were many others who came to express their solidarity with socialist principles.


A group of well-dressed young men, some even wearing suit jackets in the bright May sun, sat at a table near the Socialistisk Folkeparti (SF) tent and made it clear that they were there “for the politics”. They felt it was more important now, than ever before, to defend workers’ rights.


“We need to stand up for the rights of ordinary people,” said Pelle Johansen, looking every bit the ‘60s radical with his curly, shoulder-length brown hair and beard. “People have to work more hours now than ever before because of the financial crisis.” Nikolaj Rønsbø, a dark-haired young man handsome enough to be cast as the leading man in any chick flick, wanted his party to move forward.


“It is not about the old government anymore, it’s about the future,” Rønsbo said. “This is a good time for the left-wing parties to figure out what they really want.”  When asked about SF’s recent internal turmoil, another man at the table, Holger Groganz, laid the blame for those problems squarely at the feet of the media.


“It makes a better story if you [the media] report on the ten percent that disagree with the leaders,” said Groganz, adding that he thinks the media in Denmark leans centre/right and often carries stories that cast the socialist parties in a negative light. “But most of us support our leaders, and we are in complete agreement that there needs to be more equality in society.” That was a notion shared by the day’s unquestioned star.


While the red banners surrounding the main stage flapped in the stiff spring breeze, Enhedslisten spokesperson Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen opened her fiery, well-received speech by saying: “I said during my speech last year that this could be the last time we celebrated International Worker’s Day while [Venstre’s] Lars Løkke [Rasmussen] sat behind the prime minister’s desk with Pia Kærsgaard [leader of the Danske Folkeparti] hanging over his shoulder … and friends, it was the last time.”


Nielsen went on to warn current prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Socialdemokraterne) that the people voted for change, and that Enhedslisten is on guard against the government drifting to the right. The crowd cheered when Schmidt-Nielsen reminded them that “people without jobs are not your enemy”.


Nico, 21, and Dyana, 26, were sitting on the ground near the Enhedslisten tent while Schmidt-Nielsen spoke. They didn’t want to give their last names or have their picture taken, but they said that coming to Fælledparken on May Day had become an annual event. Toking on a spliff while heating up another block of hash with his lighter, Nico said he was at the park because he “loved socialism”.  When asked what it was about the philosophy that appealed to him, the 21-year-old paused a moment, hit the spliff and said: “I just love it.”  His partner Dyana was just as clear about her commitment: “I’m here to drink. It’s like another Roskilde Festival.” She was clearly on to something. 


The entire park felt like a large music festival. Every kind of food from hotdogs to organic Thai was on offer. There was beer and virtually every type of alcohol or soft drink on sale at tents sponsored by the political parties, sold by private vendors, and being carried in by the caseload on shoulders, in stolen shopping carts, and on hand trucks. The competition for empty cans and bottles was fierce among the ragged souls collecting them for their deposit value. There were kids in strollers, balloon vendors and an old man moving slowly through the throng selling ice cream from a cooler that must have weighed more than he did. 


A man walked around all day wearing a sandwich board-type sign that read “Capitalism is unnatural”, but in Fælledparken on May Day, capitalism, or at least commerce, was alive and well. It really was like a mini-Roskilde, with one major difference: nobody cared about the music.


When musician Pato Siebenhaar took to the stage after Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen’s speech, he hit exactly the wrong note with the crowd by promising “not to talk as much as everyone else up here”. What would’ve been a guaranteed applause line at a normal rock concert was met with at best confusion, and at worse mild disdain, by the political crowd in front of the stage. No amount of exhorting managed to get even a small percentage of the crowd to look his way. 

Over by Nico and Dyana, they were dancing to their own music blasting from a contraption they had wheeled in, made up of a car battery and an array of auto speakers. They left it playing during Villy Søvndal’s (SF) speech defending the Danish union’s efforts to protect the jobs of Danish workers. 


According to a recent opinion poll, one in three Danes define themselves as socialists. Among young people, that number is even higher. Over 40 percent of Danes between 18 and 29 years of age say they are socialists.


Louise Sevel is 26 and her friend Sara Louise Nygård is 24. They are both students and admitted that although they both leaned to the left politically, and both thought the new government was doing “better” than the last one, the main reason they were in the park on such a bright, sunny day was to get a break from studying. They lay on their blanket with a chilled bottle of white wine just far enough from the main stage that it was hard to hear Thorning-Schmidt as she spoke of the government’s accomplishments in its first seven months, its plans for the future, and her wishes that everyone have a good May Day.