Why do we celebrate Labour Day?

Why do we celebrate Labour Day?


LABOUR Day means many things, but for most of us, it means a day off from work. As for those in Western countries, it also means the unofficial end of summer and the beginning of fall and for the rest, it could also mean a chance to get away for a long weekend.

It is certainly one of those holidays that you reap the benefits from but that many people do not actually know its true significance.

Did you know that Labour Day is also referred to as May Day, Beltane, Eight-Hour Day and International Worker’s Day?

For Western countries, the reference to May Day and Beltane has its origins in the pre-Christian Celtic celebration, a spring celebration festival for Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers — a celebration of rebirth and fertility.

For the rest of the world, the origins of Labour Day can be traced back to April 15, 1872, when the Toronto Trades Assembly organized Canada’s first significant demonstration for worker’s rights.

In the late 19th century, trade unions were still outlawed.  The Canadian demonstrations actually started out by campaigning for nine-hour work days for workers. Only the subsequent movement in the United States championed the standard eight-hour work day.  The industrial era was notorious for exploiting workers in working practically round the clock in some instances. 

As early as the 1860’s, workers were already pushing to shorten the workday without a cut in pay, but it wasn’t until the late 1880’s that organized labour was able to garner enough strength to declare the 8-hour workday.

In 1882, a machinist named Matthew Maguire, first proposed the holiday while serving as secretary of the Central Labour Union of New York after witnessing the annual labour festival held in Toronto, Canada.

The modern celebration of Labour Day has its origins in the labour union movement, specially the eight-hour work day movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest.

1 May was then chosen to be International Workers’ Day in order to commemorate the 4 May, 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago, when a labour rally turned deadly, with a bomb triggered that killed over eight people.

Labour Day is used interchangeably with International Worker’s Day, which is celebrated on 1 May for most countries worldwide. For other countries, it occurs on a different date, often one with special significance for the labour movement in that particular country.

How Is Labour Day Celebrated Around The World?

Labor unions throughout Pakistan organize seminars, rallies and parades where union leaders deliver speeches emphasizing the history of Labor Day and its importance. Workers and unions arrange street processions, and this portrays solidarity with workers around the world.

Pakistan is a developing country but the current scenario has improved compared to previous times. However, workers still do not enjoy as many rights as enjoyed by workers in more developed/industrialized countries. Many organized street demonstrations take place on Labor Day, where workers and labor unions protest against labor repression and demand for more rights, better wages and benefits.

Pakistan’s first labor policy was devised in 1972, in which May 1 was declared an official holiday. This policy also formulated the creation of the Social Security Network, Old Age Benefit Schemes and Workers Welfare Fund. Pakistan’s constitution also contains various provisions and articles about labor rights.

It is important to note that Pakistan became a member of the International Labour Organization (ILO) right after its independence in 1947. The ILO is a United Nations (UN) specialized agency that promotes social justice and universally acknowledged human and social rights. Pakistan has ratified 36 ILO conventions of which eight are core conventions.

In Australia, workers celebrate Labour Day in March or October, depending on what territory they live in. It is the first Monday in October in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, and South Australia. In Western Australia, Labour Day is the first Monday in March and while in the Northern Territory, it is called May Day and occurs on the first Monday in May.

In Canada, Labour Day has been celebrated on the first Monday in September since the 1880s and considered the official end of the summer holiday as students return to school the following week. The origins of the celebration can be traced back to December 1872 when a parade was staged in support of the Toronto Typographical Union’s strike for a 58-hour work-week.

While in New Zealand, Labour Day is a public holiday held on the fourth Monday in October. Its origins are traced back to the eight-hour working day movement that arose in the newly founded Wellington colony in 1840, primarily because of carpenter Samuel Parnell’s refusal to work more than eight hours a day.

Although the date varies across countries, but it is usually occurs around May 1 and it is associated the start of the spring season as well as the celebration of workers.

Labour Day And Its Association With Protests And Picketing

Labour Day has long been a focal point for demonstrations by various socialist, human rights activists and anarchist groups around the world mainly due to austerity measures, poor working conditions, tax hikes, low wages and unemployment through methods such as demonstration, occupation, protest march, civil disobedience and rioting.



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Rava Desk

Rava is an online news portal providing recent news, editorials, opinions and advice on day to day happenings in Pakistan.


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