As Malaysians, we love public holidays especially those that falls on Fridays and Mondays. Malaysia rank 6th in the ‘Countries with the Most Public Holidays’ alongside with Japan, Argentina, Lithuania, Vietnam and Sweden with 15 days of public holidays. Most of our public holidays are very much for festivities, birthday of respective states and Independence Day but why do we celebrate Labour Day?
Fun fact: Malaysia began observing the holiday only in 1972 following the announcement by the late Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister, Ismail Abdul Rahman.
Labour Day also known as International Workers’ Day, is a celebration of labourers and the working class that was promoted by the international labour movement that occurs every 1st of May on “May Day” including the establishment of the 8-hour day and universal peace in many countries during the 1800s.
What is May Day? Traditionally, May Day is a traditional spring holiday in many Europeans countries as well as Canada and the United States that was first appeared in the pre-Christian times.
The date for Labour Day was chosen to commemorate the Haymarket affair that happened on the 4th of May 1886 in Chicago. It started in a convention held by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions late 1884 that unanimously set May 1st, 1886 as that date which 8-hour day would become a standard.
On May 1st, thousands of workers went on strike and rallies in several cities – New York City, Detroit, Milwaukee and Chicago being the movement’s center with the cry, “8-hour pay with no cut in pay”.
On May 3rd, 2 McCormick Harvesting Machine Company’s workers were killed allegedly by a police who fired on the crowd (although some newspaper accounts claimed there were 6 fatalities). Outraged by this police violence, local anarchists printed and distributed a dual-language (English and German) fliers calling for a rally in the following day at Haymarket Square.
It began a peaceful rally under a light rain in the evening but resulted with a deaths of 7 police officers and at least 4 civilians and others were wounded. The horrific incident began with a homemade bomb thrown into the path of police officers and exchange of gunshots right after.
The American Federation of Labor (AFL) continued to pressure the establishment of the 8-hour day. In 1889, Samuel Gompers, AFL president informed the world’s socialists of ALF’s plans and proposed an international campaign for a universal 8-hour day so workers everywhere can join this movement. The result? The International adopted 1st of May, 1890 as the date for this demonstration.
Today, majority of the countries celebrates International Workers’ Day or Labour Day on the 1st of May but in the United States, Labor Day is celebrated first Monday of September.
We, Malaysians like to either have some peace and quiet at home or spend some time with our family, it’s also great to learn a little history about why we celebrate or observe certain days, don’t you think?