What are the origins of Labor Day?

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Hannah A. Papasin
Writer. Critic. Professor. She started writing since primary school and now has two published textbooks on communication. A film buff, she's a Communication, Media Literacy and Journalism Professor of the University of St. La Salle-Bacolod, and has a Master's Degree in English.

It is once again Labor Day, the day for workers all over the world to celebrate THEIR day, as they enjoy the non-working holiday.

But how did the holiday come about?

How did the holiday often associated with unions and workers’ rights come to being?

Think the eight-hour a day work week is harsh?  How about when we say that the eight-hour a day work week is actually one of the gains of the labor movement, since during THAT time, it is not uncommon for workers to slave away in a 10-, or even 16-hour a day work week.

According to the International Workers of the World website, the 19th century was actually a time when workers had to endure long hours under unsafe conditions.

These harsh working conditions had bred socialist workers organizations fighting for workers’ rights.  One of these was the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions which, in its declaration in 1884, said that the eight-hour work week shall henceforth be legally observed.

The reaction towards FOTLU’s declaration was decidedly polarized.  The more radical groups see it as a concession to corporate slavery, saying shorter hours do not erase the fact that the workers were basically just literal slaves of the system.

The more reasonable ones however see it as a victory of sorts and support so that by 1 May 1886, close to a quarter million left their workspaces and took to the streets to demand the eight-day work week.

Now, every year, countries all over the world – including the Philippines – are celebrating Labor Day, a day that is now associated with workers’ struggles for fair wages, security of tenure, and safer work practices.

Salute to all workers in the world!

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