A Day of Power and Glory

IT MAY surprise many to learn that, throughout history, workers have constantly attempted to claim rights of their own. While Spartcus led a revolt during Roman Times, in the Middle Ages the Peasants' Revolt in England demanded better wages and working conditions.

By Punam Mohandas (Staff Reporter)

Published: Tue 1 May 2007, 10:00 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 12:29 AM

The origins of May Day or the 1st of May to be celebrated as a day of workers' protest, dates back to the International Worker's Congress held in Paris in July 1889, where workers around the world were called to hold a one-day demonstration to fight for the 8-hour day; this stemmed from the Chicago workers struggle of 1886, with their famous slogan -"eight hours of work, eight hours of sleep, eight hours of recreation"!

The 1st of May 1890 was chosen for this protest, to coincide with the American Federation of Labour's (AFL) campaign. A century later, May Day was recognised as an official holiday in 107 countries and as unofficial labour day in others. It is a day marked with parades and demonstrations, with symbolic red flowers and red sashes. However, the real significance lies in the fact that it was a day declared by the workers themselves - not labour leaders nor the state.

1889 also saw the development of the New Unionism in Britain, where masses of unskilled workers were drawn into unions. In the United States, two labour movements were growing simultaneously; the Federation of Organised Trades and Labour Unions of the United States and Canada (FOTLU), an umbrella organisation of skilled craft unions formed in 1881 (which later re-formed itself as the AFL). Also by the 1880's existed the organisation known as the 'Knights of Labour' which recognised the unskilled workers in Canada and the United States who could not join the craft unions.

More facts of this momentous day...

  • In 1890, in Germany, Bismarck was astounded when the Social Democratic Party received 20 per cent of the popular vote in a development that emboldened labour; he, in fact, had outlawed the day.
  • In 1894, when President Grover Cleveland announced that the first Monday in September would be Labour Day in America in a bid to divide the international working class, huge numbers of out-of-work people descended on Washington DC in the first big march.
  • The Russian Revolution of 1905 began on May Day.
  • Karl Marx is widely recognised as one of the most prominent advocates of workers rights. His philosophy focused on labour issues and an economic system of communism where society would be ruled by the workers.
  • The International Labour Organization was formed in 1919 as part of the League of Nations to protect worker's rights; the ILO later became incorporated into the United Nations.

People speak

"International labour day is significant because it seeks to uphold the fundamental rights of workers around the world for a safe and harmonious workplace. We in the UAE are privileged to be living in a country that protects the rights of workers in all sectors and industries and provides equal employment opportunities irrespective of caste, race and gender that so often hamper the economic productivity of a country".

Laila Suhail (UAE)

Chief Marketing Officer, DSS


"Our airline has always been at the forefront of issues related to the welfare of labour and we try to supplement that by offering convenient and affordable flights to the large expatriate workforce in the UAE. The local government is striving hard towards the welfare of expatriate workers and we appreciate that stance".

Anand K Pandey (India)

Country Manager UAE, Indian Airlines


"I am aware of what Labour Day is all about because back home in the Philippines, we do celebrate this occasion. I think Labour Day should be dedicated to the social and economic achievements of all workers whether they are local or expatriates."

Luisa Anna Mendoza (Philippines)

HR & General Affairs Manager, LG Electronics Gulf FZE


"I am not much aware of the Labour Day history but know that this day is celebrated by some countries on 1st May as a national tribute to the contribution of the labour force to their nation."

Jimmy Patel (India)

General Manager Retail, Jacky's


“From being a place where people came to make and save money, Dubai has turned into a desirable destination to raise a family and to have a good social life. I hope that the infrastructure construction speeds up, the telecom costs drop, healthcare facilities improve and the law becomes more labour friendly."

Hoda El Kara (Lebanon)

Arabic Editor-Media Relations, Promoseven Weber Shandwick


"Labour day on the 1st May is welcomed by most of the working population around the world. The celebration of this day has its origins in the eight hours for work, eight hours for life and eight hours of rest. Most of today’s working population around the world are working more than 8 hours, therefore I personally think it might be a good idea, to be considered by countries that don’t have it as a holiday, to consider it if it goes with their labour strategies."

Michael N. Francis (Canada)

Marketing Communications Manager, Dusit Dubai


"As a Canadian citizen, I am certainly aware of Labour Day. This would be relevant in the UAE as it speaks to our local and expatriate population and forges a commonality between us all. The day also holds relevance for me since I work in the human resources department; at our hotel, we have 800 colleagues that represent 47 nationalities"!

Jennifer Gove (Canada)

Recruitment Manager/ Human Resources Department, The Fairmont Dubai

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