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Labor day

history and purpose of labor day

Labourers load sacks of wheat grains onto a truck on International Labour Day at a railway station during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Amritsar on May 1, 2020. (Photo by NARINDER NANU / AFP)


Different countries have different origin stories for Labour Day or May Day. However, the emphasis of this day is usually on the accomplishments and efforts of workers. It raised awareness about the rights and opportunities that every worker should have for their own health and advancement.          

As we all know, a Labourer is the component of society that underpins all economic progress. Also in today’s mechanical age, the value of a labourer has not diminished. Labour contribution is critical in industries such as manufacturing, commerce, agriculture, construction of houses, bridges, and highways, and so on. So, we can say that Labour is the accretion of all human physical and mental endeavour operated in the production of goods and services. It is the fundamental element for the output.

What Is The Purpose Of Labour Day?

Labour Day, an annual celebration of workers and their accomplishments, began during one of the most difficult periods in American labour history.

To earn bread in the late 1800s, at the pinnacle of the United States’ Industrial Revolution, the average American worked 12-hour a day and seven-day a week. In spite of some federation controls, children as young as 5 or 6 worked in mills, factories, and mines around the country, receiving a fraction of what their adult companions did.

People of all ages, particularly the poor and recent immigrants, frequently worked in hazardous conditions with little access to fresh air, sanitary facilities, or breaks.

Labour unions, which had first emerged in the late 18th century, became more influential and vocal as manufacturing gradually supplanted agriculture as the source of American employment. To protest unfair working conditions and force employers to renegotiate hours and wages, they started organizing strikes and demonstrations.

Many of these incidents were violent during this time period, including the notorious Haymarket Riot of 1886, which resulted in the deaths of several Chicago police officers and staff. Others established long-standing traditions, such as the first Labour Day parade in the United States, which took place on September 5, 1882, when 10,000 employees took unpaid time off to rally from City Hall to Union Square in New York.

The concept of a “workingmen’s holiday” caught on in other manufacturing cities around the country, and several states passed laws to recognize it. Just 12 years later, when employees of Chicago’s Pullman Palace Car Company went on strike on May 11, 1894, to protest pay cuts and the dismissal of union leaders, Congress legalized the holiday. This was indeed a horrendous day in the history of American Labour protests.

The American Railroad Union, led by Eugene V. Debs, called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars on June 26, crippling rail traffic throughout the country. The federal government intervened to end the Pullman strike. To put a period in the Pullman strike, the federal administration sent troops to Chicago, which led to a surge of riots that resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen workers.

Therefore, we celebrate Labour Day in order to pay tribute to those labourers who sacrificed themselves for the great cause.

Who Initiated The Celebration Of Labours Day?

In the aftermath of the widespread violence, Congress passed legislation making Labour Day a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories in an effort to mend relations with American workers. The head of the state Grover Cleveland signed it into a new rule in June 1894.

Many people give credit to others, some say it was Matthew Maguire, a secretary of the Central Labour Union, who first proposed the holiday, while others say it was Peter J. McGuire, cofounder of the American Federation of Labour. However, the real founder of Labour Day has yet to be named more than a century later.

What are the Traditions Of Celebrating Labours Day?

International Labour Day, also known as May Day or Labour Day, is observed as an official holiday in many countries around the world to honour the achievements of workers. On this day, a variety of programmes and events are planned. Various banners and flags in various colours are also painted by the labourers. Various news and messages about Labour Day are broadcast on television and social media to raise social consciousness among the public.

As a result, every year, on May 1st, Labour Day or May Day is commemorated in various countries around the world to raise awareness about the rights and opportunities that every worker should have for their livelihood.

How is Labour Day Celebrated In the Recent Times?

Despite the fact that Labours Day weekend is now synonymous with barbecues, weekend getaways, and summer clearance sales, worker-oriented Labour Day parades and celebrations abound in hundreds of cities across the United States; it happened in 2019. Faces of all races and ethnicities could be seen in pictures of those parades, as unions today are more diverse than ever before.

Because of COVID-19, parades were cancelled in 2020, but some unions commemorated the day by doing good deeds. According to NBC 4 Los Angeles, a Labour group in Los Angeles came together to fund a food distribution that served thousands.

The AFL-CIO and other unions are now dominated by Labour leaders who are focused on day-to-day problems rather than broad social change. Unions also try to benefit their members by endorsing political candidates, funding political action groups, and taking positions on topics such as human rights and workplace security.


Labour Day is a day for unwinding and rejuvenation. It is also a good time to remember those who fought for workers’ rights and implemented reforms. They set a great trend for the generations to come. However, the Labourers were only granted their minimum legal rights because of a few people who came forward and urged others to do so as well. Now, it is time for us to strive for the daily wagers, especially in our premises, who work endlessly for relatively low margins.



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