What Labour Day is All About

By Ahmed Wafi

A holiday to commemorate work?

May 1st is important to many Malaysians because everyone gets a day off in conjunction with Labour Day (also known as International Workers’ Day). But did you know that May 1st isn’t recognised as Labour Day around the world? Different countries celebrate Labour Day on different days in order to commemorate different milestones and events.

Take Australia for example. Australians celebrate Labour Day on the first Monday in October or the first Monday in March, second Monday in March and the first Monday in May. Confusing right? On top of that, when you celebrate it depends on which state you live in. And if you live in Queensland, it’s called May Day instead of Labour Day because it's a holiday in May (it also sounds cooler)

As for Americans, they celebrate Labour Day on the first Monday of September. It’s believed that the September date was to fill the void between the 4th of July and Thanksgiving.

In fact, Labour Day originated from the US so it’s right that we pay thanks to them for giving the world a day off!

How did it all begin? During the 1890s, in the heat of the industrial revolution, labourers fought for better rights, higher pay and most importantly fewer working hours (labourers used to work up to 16 hours a day). The fight for justice saw protestors in the Pullman Strike of 1894 killed by authorities, which sparked a national outcry within America.

Then President Grover Cleveland eventually passed the bill to make the first Monday of September a national holiday. Due to the efforts of labour unions, the eight-hour work day was introduced in America (first lobbied in the UK in 1817 by Robert Owen)

Earlier celebrations of Labour Day were used for further lobbying of better working rights where labourers would continue going on peaceful protests and marches. But why do we, along with so many other countries, celebrate Labour Day on May 1st?

Before the Pullman Strike in 1894, on May 1st 1886, 200,000 U.S. labourers started a nationwide protest known as the Haymarket Affair, demanding for the eight-hour work day. The strike was scheduled to go on for more than just that one day and was intended to be peaceful but on May 3rd, demonstrators clashed with police which saw several protestors injured or dead.

On May 4th, a bomb is detonated near Haymarket Square in Chicago, killing several men including police officers.

Today, we celebrate International Workers’ Day peacefully with a nice day off from work and this year, spare a thought for those who lost their lives in the fight!

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