Labour Day (Labor Day in the United States) is an annual holiday to celebrate the achievements of workers. Labour Day has its origins in the labour union movement, specifically the eight-hour day movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest.
For most countries, Labour Day is synonymous with, or linked with, International Workers' Day, which occurs on 1 May. For other countries, Labour Day is celebrated on a different date, often one with special significance for the labour movement in that country.
In Canada and the United States, Labour Day is celebrated on the first Monday of September and considered the unofficial end of summer, with summer vacations ending and students returning to school around then.
International Workers' Day
For most countries, "Labour Day" is synonymous with, or linked with, International Workers' Day, which occurs on 1 May. Some countries vary the actual date of their celebrations so that the holiday occurs on a Monday close to 1 May. The remainder of this article addresses those countries for whom Labour Day is not linked to International Workers' Day.
Celebrating the Australian labour movement and specifically the achievement of a working day limited to eight hours, the Labour Day public holiday is fixed by the various state and territory governments, and so varies considerably. It is the first Monday in October in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and South Australia. In Victoria and Tasmania, it is the second Monday in March (though the latter calls it Eight Hours Day). In Western Australia, Labour Day is the first Monday in March. In the Northern Territory and Queensland it is called May Day and occurs on the first Monday in May. It is on the fourth Monday of March in the territory of Christmas Island.
The first march for an eight-hour day by the labour movement occurred in Melbourne on 21 April 1856. On this day stonemasons and building workers on building sites around Melbourne stopped work and marched from the University of Melbourne to Parliament House to achieve an eight-hour day. Their direct action protest was a success, and they are noted as being among the first organised workers in the world to achieve an 8-hour day, with no loss of pay.
Bangladesh Garment Sramik Sanghati, an organization working for the welfare of garment workers, has requested that 24 April be declared Labour Safety Day in Bangladesh, in memory of the victims of the Rana Plaza building collapse.
Labour Day is a national holiday in the Bahamas, celebrated on the first Friday in June in order to create a long weekend for workers. The traditional date of Labour Day in the Bahamas, however, is 7 June, in commemoration of a significant workers' strike that began on that day in 1942. Labour Day is meant to honor and celebrate workers and the importance of their contributions to the nation and society. In the capital city, Nassau, thousands of people come to watch a parade through the streets, which begins at mid-morning. Bands in colorful uniforms, traditional African junkanoo performers, and members of various labour unions and political parties are all part of the procession, which ends up at the Southern Recreation Grounds, where government officials make speeches for the occasion. For many residents and visitors to the Bahamas, the afternoon of Labour Day is a time to relax at home or perhaps visit the beach.
Labour Day (French: Fête du Travail) has been celebrated in Canada on the first Monday in September since the 1880s. The origins of Labour Day in Canada can be traced back to December 1872 when a parade was staged in support of the Toronto Typographical Union's strike for a 58-hour work-week. The Toronto Trades Assembly (TTA) called its 27 unions to demonstrate in support of the Typographical Union who had been on strike since 25 March. George Brown, Canadian politician and editor of the Toronto Globe hit back at his striking employees, pressing police to charge the Typographical Union with "conspiracy." Although the laws criminalising union activity were outdated and had already been abolished in Great Britain, they were still on the books in Canada and police arrested 24 leaders of the Typographical Union. Labour leaders decided to call another similar demonstration on 3 September to protest the arrests. Seven unions marched in Ottawa, prompting a promise by Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald to repeal the "barbarous" anti-union laws. Parliament passed the Trade Union Act on 14 June the following year, and soon all unions were seeking a 54-hour work-week.
The Toronto Trades and Labour Council (successor to the TTA) held similar celebrations every spring. American Peter J. McGuire, co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was asked to speak at a labour festival in Toronto, Canada on 22 July 1882. Returning to the United States, McGuire and the Knights of Labor organised a similar parade based on the Canadian event on 5 September 1882 in New York City, USA. On 23 July 1894, Canadian Prime Minister John Thompson and his government made Labour Day, to be held in September, an official holiday. In the United States, the New York parade became an annual event that year, and in 1894 was adopted by American president Grover Cleveland to compete with International Workers' Day (May Day).
While Labour Day parades and picnics are organised by unions, many Canadians 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. Since the new school year generally starts right after Labour Day, families with school-age children take it as the last chance to travel before the end of summer.
An old fashioned tradition in Canada and the United States frowns upon the wearing of white after Labour Day. Explanations for this tradition vary; the most common is that white is a summer colour and Labour Day unofficially marks the end of summer. The rule may have been intended as a status symbol for new members of the upper and middle classes in the late 19th and early 20th century.
A Labour Day tradition in Atlantic Canada is the Wharf Rat Rally in Digby, Nova Scotia, while the rest of Canada watches the Labour Day Classic, a Canadian Football League event where rivals like Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts (except in 2011 and 2013, due to scheduling conflicts), and Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers play on Labour Day weekend. Before the demise of the Ottawa Renegades after the 2005 season, that team played the nearby Montreal Alouettes on Labour Day weekend. Since the 2014 CFL season, when the Ottawa Redblacks began play, the Montreal–Ottawa Labour Day tradition has once again been observed. Likewise, Ontario University Athletics has a long-established tradition to play university football on Labour Day.
Before 1961, 24 May was celebrated in Jamaica as Empire Day in honour of the birthday of Queen Victoria and her emancipation of slaves in Jamaica. As its name suggests, the day was used to celebrate the British Empire, complete with flag-raising ceremonies and the singing of patriotic songs. In 1961, Jamaican Chief Minister Norman Washington Manley proposed the replacement of Empire Day with Labour Day, a celebration in commemoration of 23 May 1938, when Alexander Bustamante led a labour rebellion leading to Jamaican independence.
In 1972, Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley promoted Labour Day as a showcase for the importance of labour to the development of Jamaica, and a day of voluntary community participation to beneficial projects. Since then, Labour Day has been not only a public holiday but also a day of mass community involvement around the country.
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 tradesmen also to work for only 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 stipulated that the holiday would be observed on the same day throughout the nation.
Trinidad and Tobago
In the United States, Labor Day is a federal holiday observed on the first Monday of September. It is customarily viewed as the end of the summer vacation season. Many schools open for the year on the day after Labor Day. The holiday is shared with Canada, where it is known as Labour Day.
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