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5 Interesting Facts About International Labour Day

By Swagata SarkarApril 22, 2022
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What is International Labour Day?

Almost everyone in this world is well aware of the fact that 1st May is a holiday but only a few of us know about the significance of this day. Some call this day the International Labour’s Day and some as May Day or Worker’s Day. World Labour day is celebrated all over the world to honour the historic struggles and victories of workers and the labour movement. A similar day is observed in the United States and Canada on the first Monday of September month and is also known as the ‘Labour Day’. This year, i.e in 2022, May Day or World Labour Day falls on Sunday, 1st May. 

History and Importance of Labour Day

The origins of Labour Day can be traced back to the nineteenth-century labour union movement in the United States. In commemoration of the Haymarket Riot in Chicago, an international federation of socialist groups and trade unions designated 1st May as Workers' Day in 1889. (1886). Unhappy with the socialist origins of Workers' Day, U.S. President Grover Cleveland signed legislation five years later to make Labour Day, which was already observed in some states on the first Monday of September, the official U.S. holiday in honour of workers. Not long after, Canada followed suit. 

Around the beginning of the 19th century, the industrialists exploited the labour class in the United States of America, forcing them to work up to 15 hours a day. Workers were forced to speak out against the exploitation. They demanded paid leave, proper wages and breaks for the workforce. In May 1886, 400,000 workers across the United States went on strike, demanding an eight-hour workday. The strike began peacefully, but there was some violence on the third day of protests in Chicago. Police opened fire on unarmed workers, killing several of them. There were more protests the next day, and someone threw a bomb. Four workers and 7 police officers were killed by the bomb or by police shootings that occurred immediately after the bomb. Although the perpetrator of the bomb was never identified, eight workers were arrested. Seven of them were sentenced to death, and one was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

This event, known as The Haymarket Affair, was crucial in uniting working people in the United States. Many people did not believe the men were guilty, and the trial was deemed unfair. The Haymarket Affair became a symbol of the international struggle for workers' rights, and 1st May was designated as International Workers' Day. On this day, socialist parties and trade unions urged workers to demonstrate in support of the eight-hour workday and peaceful protest. In the United States, the eight-hour workday became law for public employees in 1892. Workers' movements around the world have continued to fight for and win this right since then.

Celebrating International Labour Day in India

Though the May Day or International Labour Day originated from the uprising made by the United States labourers, different countries have different stories for celebrating the May Day. However, the idea or the motive behind celebrating this day is the same. The labour class is honoured all over the world by celebrating this day. 

In our country, India, observance of May Day started in the year 1923. On 1st May 1923, the first Labour Day was celebrated in India which was organised by the Labour Kisan Party of Hindustan in Chennai (then Madras). In India, this day is also known as ‘Anntarashtriya Shramik Diwas’, ‘Kamgar Diwas’ or ‘Uzhaipalar Naal’ in different states. 

Interesting Facts About International Labour Day

Here are some interesting facts about the May Day or International Labour Day:

  • The concept was first made public in 1882. The unions of New York City decided to hold a parade in September 1882 to celebrate their members' union membership and to show support for all unions. There were at least 20,000 people in attendance, and the workers had to forgo a day's pay to attend.

  • The 1882 parade has been linked to machinist Matthew Maguire and carpenter Peter McGuire. The men were from opposing unions; in 2011, Linda Stinson, a former U.S. Department of Labour historian said she didn't know which man should be credited, partly because people had confused them over the years due to their similar-sounding names.

  • People wear white clothes on this day. This old custom dates back to the late Victorian era when wearing any white clothing after the summer officially ended on Labour Day. It was considered a fashion faux pas. The tradition is no longer followed in its entirety.

  • Although almost every country in the world has recognised International Workers' Day, only a few, around 60 nations, celebrate this day in order to recognise the efforts of workers.

  • May Day was declared an official national holiday in India following an appeal by MDMK chief Vaiko to then-Prime Minister VP Singh.

Protests and celebrations take various forms in different countries around the world. South Africa, Tunisia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and China all have public holidays on the 1st of May. On International Workers' Day, there are protests in many countries, including France, Greece, Japan, Pakistan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

World Labour Day is a day set aside for working people to take a break from their usual duties. It is an opportunity to advocate for workers' rights, stand in solidarity with other workers and celebrate the accomplishments of workers all over the world.