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Historic events behind the annual global celebration of workers

Illustration of the first American Labor parade held in New York City on Sept. 5, 1882 as it appeared in the Sept. 16, 1882 issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. —

More than a holiday that gives another opportunity for individuals to take a breather from work, Labor Day celebrates workers and acknowledges their contributions to society.

The annual observance of Labor Day, also called International Workers’ Day, was the result of the widespread protests around the world calling for safer and fairer working conditions, eight-hour working days, and higher salaries. The goal of the eight-hour working days was to limit the length of working days in order to protect the working class from exhaustion and unfair working conditions.

The notion of Labor Day started with union activist Peter J. McGuire who created the United Brotherhood of Carpenters in 1881. He suggested organizing a ceremony honoring American workers in 1882.

According to the United States’ Department of Labor, the first Labor Day holiday in the United States was celebrated on Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City.

Later on, the decision to choose the first day of May for Labor Day was influenced by what happened in 1884 when the American Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions demanded for an eight-hour workweek to take effect by May 1, 1886.

This event prompted the first international congress of socialist parties, which was held on July 14, 1889 in Paris, France, to dedicate May 1 of every year as the “Workers Day of International Unity and Solidarity.” The first Labor Day celebration in May, then, was held the following year.

Another major event that influenced the labor movement is the Pullman Strike on May 11, 1894. The Pullman Strike is a widespread railroad strike of workers of the Pullman Place Car company that reduced the low wages of its employees in response to the economic depression.

In the Philippines, Labor Day is celebrated to commemorate the laborers and their long struggles, and recognize their courage and bravery in fighting for better working conditions.

The first Labor Day in the country is said to be on May 1, 1903, when thousands of workers trooped in by the Union Obrera Democratica de Filipinas held a protest and marched from Plaza Moriones in Tondo to Malacañang, demanding a then American-led government for better and fairer working conditions.

Further solidifying the celebration of Labor Day as a national holiday in the country are the passage of a bill in 1908 making the first day of May as a national holiday; and the signing of Presidential Decree No. 442, known as the Labor Code of the Philippines, on May 1, 1974.

As Tatler Asia explored on an article published on its website, the Filipino working class is among those who were given the lowest wages worldwide and continues to face challenges in employment practices. Thus, fighting for the labor movement and celebrating Labor Day is still significant as before.

“The data presented by the e-commerce platform Picodi showed that the Philippines ranked 95th out of 106 countries in terms of the average wage, recorded at $308 or P15,200 in 2020,” Tatler Asia shared.

Until today, Labor Day is still significant for most countries. On top of honoring laborers and the labor movement, people celebrated this national holiday in different ways. For instance, Labor Day has also become a summer festival and a weekend for family gatherings. In addition, the holiday is also celebrated through parades and even protests and political speeches.

In recognition of the 121st Labor Day in the Philippines this year, the Department of Labor and Employment is celebrating the national holiday with the theme “Pabahay, Bilihing Abot-Presyo, Benepisyo ng Matatag na Trabaho Para sa Manggagawang Pilipino.” — Angela Kiara S. Brillantes

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