Labour Day (or Labor Day for our friends in the United States) is an annual holiday that celebrates the achievements of workers. Its origins lie in the labour union movement and its accomplishments, like the eight-hour workday which is still a standard for many today.
Most countries outside Canada and the United States celebrate International Workers’ Day, which occurs on the first of May, to honor their workforce. Let’s look at how Labour Day evolved in countries around the world as well as what Labour Day means today.
Origins of Labour Day Around the World
Labour movements around the world inspired a celebration of the efforts of workers. Each country below had its own unique path to celebrating its current version of Labour Day.
In Canada, Labour Day has its roots in an 1872 printers’ strike in Toronto. Fighting for a nine-hour workday, the strikers’ victory was a major milestone in the changing relations between Canadian workers and their government. Throughout the 1880s, pressure built in Canada to declare a national labour holiday, and in July 1894, the federal government passed a law making Labour Day official.
In Australia, the first march for an eight-hour day by the labour movement occurred in Melbourne on April 21, 1856. On this day, workers on building sites around the city stopped work and marched from the University of Melbourne to Parliament House to protest for an eight-hour workday. This protest was a success and is noted as being among the first organized workers movement in the world to achieve an 8-hour day, with no loss of pay.
In the Bahamas, Labour Day is celebrated on the first Friday in June. Its traditional date of Labour Day, however, is June 7, in honor of a significant workers’ strike that began on that day in 1942.
In Japan, Labour Day is officially combined with Thanksgiving on November 23, as Labor Thanksgiving Day. This is the modern name for an ancient harvest festival known as Niiname-sai. The holiday is an occasion to respect labor, celebrate production, and for citizens to give each other thanks.
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 Wellington colony in 1840, primarily because of carpenter Samuel Parnell’s refusal to work more than eight hours a day.
In the United States, Labor Day honors and recognizes the American labor movement and the contributions of workers to the achievements of the country. In 1887, Oregon became the first U.S. state to make Labor Day an official public holiday. By 1894, 30 U.S. states were already officially celebrating Labor Day. In that year, Congress passed a bill recognizing the first Monday of September as Labor Day and making it an official federal holiday.
Labour Day in 2022
Despite all that has been accomplished by the many labour movements, there are still inequities and labour issues that need to be addressed today. Social movements around the globe still fight for humane labor practices, equitable and inclusive workplaces, living wages, and more.
Organizations like The Fight for $15 and Fair Labor Association continue to advocate and strive to protect and improve the lives of workers. On this upcoming Labour Day, consider supporting a local advocacy or community group that does work that resonates with you. Together we can build a better future for all workers, no matter who they are, where they live, or what they do.