May day is celebrated on the 1st of May as the International Worker’s Day or International Labour Day. May Day celebrates unity and solidarity of workers as well their hard work and achievements. Historically, in Europe May Day has been celebrated as a day of merriment to mark the arrival of summer and was associated with blooming flowers symbolizing rebirth. Later in the 19th century, the day came to be associated with labour movement. In 1889, May Day was chosen as the date to celebrate and commemorate workers’ movements and achievements during the Second Communist International held at Paris. Since then May 1st came to be known as a day for workers all over the world. This date was chosen to mark the Haymarket Affair. Now what was this famous Haymarket Affair? On May 1886, United States of America witnessed participation of hundreds of workers in a nationwide strike and labor demonstration in demand for 8-hour work day at Haymarket Square in Chicago. At the time, there were no fixed working hours for factory workers and it was common to work 10-16-hours a day. The day ended with a bombing and death of some demonstrators. To mark the achievements and sacrifices of the worker’s movements and struggles around the world 1st May was chosen.
Industrial revolution brought about many changes as huge factories manufacturing large volume of goods in a short period of time sprung up all over the world. Men, women and children worked in factories, mills and mines under horrible conditions. They were forced to work 10-16 hours or even more for very little wages. There were no fixed working hours or wages. They did not receive appropriate wages for their work and were forced to live in poverty, sometimes being unable to afford even basic necessities. In the 1800’s, we see a turn as workers began to unite to demand better working conditions. They demanded lesser working hours and recognition for their work. The Haymarket Affair was one such event where many workers participated to demand right to lesser working hours and better wages. Today, we celebrate May Day to remember not only those who participated in the Haymarket demonstration but workers all over the world and their hard work. It was through labour union movements that workers won the right to reduced 8-hour working day and guaranteed minimum wages. May Day therefore celebrates victory of the labour unions and workers worldwide.
The International Labor Day, which is also observed on 1st May in India every year. It is a tribute to all the workers for their contributions toward building the nation’s economy. The Labor Kisan Party initiated International Labour Day in Chennai, India. India celebrated its first Labour Day in May 1923. Approximately eighty countries, including India, celebrate the International Labour Day on 1st May, whereas United States and Canada observe Labour Day on the first Monday of September.
International Labour Day is marked as the remembrance of the contribution of workers’ to society and is celebrated with pride. To honour workers on this day street parades, parties and unique athletic events are held in different parts of the world. We should always remember that workers are the backbone of every nation. A nation cannot see economic progress and industrial growth without the contribution of workers. Thus, on International Labour Day, let us pay our gratitude to all the workers.
Image – Anokh Somuddur