Sometimes I forget what Labor Day is about … aside from being the last long week-end of summer and the day before going back to school. It’s supposed to commemorate the labor movement and celebrate the working classes.
In most of the world it is marked on May 1 as International Workers Day but in Canada and the United States, it is the first Monday in September. Why is that?
Labor Day Origins
Different sources have different dates for the beginnings of the labor movement. The earliest reference I’ve found, is 1856 when stone masons in Australia undertook a work stoppage to promote an 8 hour work day. Social movement to regulate working days began with the Industrial Revolution when mass production in factories transformed working life. At the time, working days ranged from 10 to 16 hours, the work week was six days long and child labor was common.
In Canada, the Nine Hour Movement took place in 1872 and culminated with a march supporting typographic printers on strike in Toronto. It started with a parade of 2,000 workers but by the time it reached the government offices in Queen’s Park, the sympathetic crowd had grown to 10,000.
For the strikers themselves, the short-term effects were very damaging. Many lost their jobs and were forced to leave Toronto. The long-term effects, however, were positive. After 1872, almost all union demands included the nine-hour day and the 54-hour week. Thus the Toronto printers were pioneers of the shorter work week in North America.
The fight of the Toronto printers had a second, lasting legacy. 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. Inspired, he returned to New York and organized the first American “labor day” on 5 September of the same year.– “Origins of Labor Day” in The Canadian Encyclopedia
Why September versus May
Up until 1886 both sides of the Atlantic used May to celebrate the labor movement. That changed on May 1886 when a demonstration in Chicago’s Haymarket Square included a bomb blast that killed seven police officers and four civilians.
The Haymarket affair provoked a strong anti-union sentiment in the United States. May Day became associated with the political far left and Labor Day, held in September, was recognized as a more neutral, celebratory holiday. In 1894 the first Monday in September was officially designated as a federal holiday in both Canada and the United States.
International Workers Day
In most countries Labor Day is synonymous with International Workers Day held in May. This includes Vietnam for which International Workers Day is adjacent to Reunification Day on April 30th. Reunification Day is also known as Victory Day or Black April (depending on who’s noting it) and marks the day that Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) was reclaimed by the North Vietnamese.
These photos were taken in the Cholon Flower Market in HCMC and show the hard workers in the area. I’m not sure how regulated their days are but they start early and work long hours. When it’s time for a break, it is well deserved.
This post is my second contribution to Sarah’s Friendly Friday MEET … challenge. For all my friends in Canada and the US, I wish you a great Labor Day weekend!