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International Workers’ Day

by Julie Kempson, May 2019

May 1st is traditionally known as Labour Day or International Workers’ Day and is recognised as a national holiday in more than 80 countries worldwide.  It is also celebrated unofficially in many other countries around the world as well.

It originates in the late 19th Century from the Labour Union Movement in the United States, and in particular the 8 Hour Day Movement which advocated for eight hours work per day.   Back in the late 19th Century, working conditions (by today’s standards) were appalling – very severe and extremely unsafe, with those who were working, facing a 12-16 hour day.

In the United States in 1884, a resolution was passed that stated “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labour from and after 1st May 1886”.    On this day in 1886, workers went on general strike in demand of the 8 hour day.  In Haymarket in Chicago, an unidentified person threw a bomb at a public assembly of workers who were supporting the strike and the police responded by firing at the workers, which lead to several deaths.   This incident is remembered at the Haymarket Affair or the Haymarket Massacre.

May Day is now a Bank Holiday, celebrated partly in recognition of those who died in Chicago on 1st May 1886 and also as a tribute to workers around the world whose contributions have helped to make the world economies grow and prosper.

Happy May Day!