Labour Day

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Labour Day Parade in Toronto in early 1900s

A Labour Day is an annual holiday celebrated all over the world that resulted from efforts of the labour union movement, to celebrate the economic and social achievements of the workers.

The celebration of Labour Day has its origins in the eight hour day movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest of the workers. On 21 April 1856, stonemasons and building workers on building sites around Melbourne, Australia, stopped working and marched from the University of Melbourne to the Parliament House to achieve an eight hour day. Their direct action protest was a success, and they are noted as the first organized workers in the world to achieve an eight hour day with no loss of pay, which subsequently inspired the celebration of Labour Day and May Day.


Labour Day in most of the world

Most countries celebrate Labour Day on May 1, known as May Day. In Europe, the day has older significance as a rural festival which is predominantly more important than that of the Labour Day movement. The holiday has become internationalized and several countries hold multi-day celebrations including parades, shows and other patriotic and labor-oriented events.

Labor Day in Europe

In Germany, Labour Day was established as an official holiday in 1933 after the Nazi Party, or NSDAP, rose to power. It was supposed to symbolize the new-found unity between the state and the German people. A day later, on 2 May 1933, all free unions were outlawed and destroyed. But since the holiday had been celebrated by the German workers for many decades before the official state endorsement, the NSDAP's attempt to appropriate it left no long-term resentment.

In Poland, Labour Day on May 1 was renamed "State Holiday" in 1990.

In Sweden and Norway, May 1 is a national holiday celebrated through widespread demonstrations by the entire worker's movement.

In Italy, May 1 is national holiday, demonstrations of the trade unions are widespread. Since the '90s, the trade unions organize a massive free concert in Rome, with a mobilization attended by over a million people.

Labour Day in Australia

In Australia, the Labour Day public holiday is fixed by the various states and territories' governments, that varies considerably. It is celebrated on the first Monday in October in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and South Australia. While, in both Victoria (Australia) and Tasmania (they call it “Eight Hours Day”), it is the second Monday in March. In Western Australia, Labour Day is the first Monday in March. And in both Queensland and the Northern Territory, it is the first Monday in May.

Labour Day in Canada

Labour Day has been celebrated on the first Monday in September in Canada since the 1880s. The September date has remained unchanged, even though the government was encouraged to adopt May 1 as Labour Day, the date celebrated by the majority of the world. Moving the holiday, in addition to breaking with tradition, could have been viewed as aligning the Canadian labour movements with internationalist sympathies. Another major reason for keeping the current September date is that the United States celebrates its Labor Day of the United States on the same day. Synchronizing the holiday reduces possible inconvenience for businesses with major operations on both sides of the border.

The origins of Labour Day in Canada can be traced back to a printer's revolt in 1872 in Toronto, where workers tried to establish a 54-hour work week. At that time, any union activity was considered illegal and the organizers were jailed, at the command of Canadian politician George Brown. Protest marches of over 10,000 workers were formed in response, which eventually led to Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald's repealing of the anti-union laws and arranging the release of the organizers as well.

The parades held in support of the Nine-Hour Movement and the printers' strike led to an annual celebration. In 1882 American labour leader Peter J. McGuire witnessed one of these labour festivals in Toronto. Returning to the United States, Peter McGuire along with the Knights of Labor organized a similar parade on September 5 1882 in New York City. Other labour organizations (and there were many), but notably the affiliates of the International Workingmen's Association were socialists or anarchists, favored May 1 as a holiday. With the event of Chicago's Haymarket riots in early May of 1886, president Grover Cleveland believed that a May 1 holiday could become an opportunity to commemorate the riots.

Thus, fearing that it might strengthen the socialist movement, he quickly moved in 1887 to support the position of the Knights of Labor and their date for Labour Day. The date was adopted in Canada in 1894 by the government of Prime Minister John Sparrow David Thompson. Socialist delegates in Paris in 1889 appointed 1 May as the official International Labour Day.

While Labour Day parades and picnics are organized by unions, many Canadians simply regard Labour Day as the Monday of the last long weekend of summer. Non-union celebrations include picnics, fireworks displays, water activities, and public art events. Families with school-age children take it as the last chance to travel before the end of summer. Some teenagers and young adults view it as the last weekend for parties before returning to school, which traditionally begin their new year the day after.

An old custom prohibits the wearing of white after Labour Day. The explanations for this tradition range from the fact that white clothes are worse protection against cold weather in the winter to the fact that the rule was intended as a status symbol for new members of the middle class in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Labour Day in New Zealand

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. He encouraged other tradesman to also only work for eight hours a day and in October 1840 a workers' meeting passed a resolution supporting the idea. On 28 October 1890, the 50th anniversary of the eight-hour day was commemorated with a parade. The event was then celebrated annually in late October as either Labour Day or Eight-Hour Demonstration Day. In 1899 government legislated that the day be a public holiday from 1900. The day was celebrated on different days in different provinces. This led to ship owners complaining that seamen were taking excessive holidays by having one Labour Day in one port then another in their next port. In 1910 the government officially declared the fourth Monday of October as the holiday so that it would be observed only on the same day throughout the nation. Nowadays for the majority of New Zealanders it's "just another holiday".

Labor Day in the United States

Labor Day is a United States federal holiday that takes place on the first Monday of September. It constitutes an annual and national tribute to the contributions the workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the country. In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a "workingmen's holiday" on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.


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