International Workers’ Day

Is workers’ day just another day off work or do you really understand what it stands for? Workers’ Day means more than undefined parades, protests and speeches. It stands for freedom, consideration and humanity.

International Workers’ Day also known as May Day or Labour Day in some countries is celebrated on May 1st around the world to honour workers and recognize their contributions around the world. Workers were not always celebrated in the past and it took the efforts of several brave women and men to achieve this recognition. So what really happened?

The origin of May Day dates back to the 1860s when working conditions were harsh and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in hazardous and unsafe conditions in some industries. Thousands of men, women and children were losing their lives every year in the workplace due to hazardous working conditions and the employers seemed unbothered. Life expectancy was as low as early twenties in some of these industries. Out of desperation, some of the workers tried to shorten the workday to 8 hours without a pay cut.

A nationwide protest was staged on May 1, 1886 in Chicago and other cities in the U.S in demonstration of support for the 8-hour workday. The protest turned violent and it was recorded that lives were lost to this cause; with the events of that period dubbed the ‘Haymarket affair’. May 1 was chosen for International Workers’ Day by the ‘Second International’, a pan-national organisation of socialist and communist political parties, to commemorate the Haymarket affair. All Social Democratic Party Organisations and Trade Unions of countries were called on to demonstrate energetically on the 1st of May, for the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, class demands of the workers and for universal peace.

In Nigeria, May Day as a holiday was first declared by the People Redemption Party (PRP) Government of Kano State in 1980. It became a national holiday on May 1, 1981.

Fun facts about International Workers’ Day

  1. Hundreds of countries have recognized International Workers’ Day, although only about 60 countries actually celebrate the holiday
  2. An estimated 30 million people still suffer modern-day slavery conditions in the workplace
  3. There are over 200 million children working around the world today, with 120 million engaged in hazardous work; about seventy-three million of these children are under 10 years old
  4. Although May 1 is celebrated as a holiday by governments across the world, the US and Canada have their official holiday for Workers on the First Monday of September
  5. May Day is not recognized in Israel, but it is a paid holiday in that country

Happy International Workers’ Day!

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