Labor Day

Origins of the Labor Day

Labor Day is an annual holiday that resulted from efforts of the labour union movement, to celebrate the economic and social achievements of workers.

Labor Day.
Labor Day parade in 1900, Main Street, Buffalo, NY.

The celebration of Labor Day has its origins in the eight hour day movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest. On April 21, 1856 Stonemasons and building workers on building sites around Melbourne, Australia, stopped work and marched from the University of Melbourne to Parliament House to achieve an eight hour day. Their direct action protest was a success, and they are noted as the first organised workers in the world to achieve an eight hour day, which subsequently inspired the celebration of Labour Day and May Day.

Source: Wikipedia

Labor Day in the United States

Labor Day in the United States, Canada and Australia is quite different, tracing its origins back to the “Noble Order of the Knights of Labor in America,” an organization which was founded in Philadelphia on Thanksgiving Day 1869 through the efforts of Uriah S. Stephens and six associates, all garment cutters.

May Day Parade.
May Day Parade in 1934 which started at the Minneapolis Auditorium.

This was started as a trade union but soon changed into a broad spectrum social and philanthropic organization under the guidance of Stephens who was himself a Mason and fostered a Mason-like direction. A secret ritual was initiated, of which no copy has been was found in writing, a first local assembly was called in 1773 and that same year a second assembly of ship carpenters and caulkers employed in Cramp’s shipyard in Philadelphia was called. From that point membership grew, a new constitution was adopted in l882 even admitting women members, with a membership of near a million workers in the mid 1880’s.

Source: William Harris,

How Labor Day is Celebrated Throughout the World


While Germany’s economic prosperity during the last decades led to a decline of the workers’ movement and of the political importance of May Day, since 1987 it has become known for heavy rioting by radical leftists, including the punk rock scene, Autonome and others, but also “regular” youths not fond of the police. In recent years, this has somewhat declined, while neo-nazis like the NPD try to make use of the day again with public demonstrations, which frequently lead to clashes with left-wing protesters.


Labor Day is the first Monday in October in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and South Australia. In the Northern Territory it is called May Day but (unlike in most other countries with such a holiday) occurs on May 5, not May 1. In Victoria it is the second Monday in March, and March 1 in both Western Australia and Tasmania (the latter calls it Eight Hours Day).

Labor Day.
Pickets surround Lake Street Plant of Minneapolis Moline Company, 1946.

New Zealand

Labor Day is a public holiday held on the 4th Monday in October. Its origins are traced back to the 8 hour working day movement that arose in the newly founded Wellington colony in 1840, primarily because of carpenter Samuel Parnell’s refusal to work more than 8 hours a day. He encouraged other trademen to also only work for 8 hours a day and in October 1840 a workers meeting passed a resolution supporting the idea. On 28 October 1890, the fiftieth anniversary of the 8 hour day was commemorated with a parade. The event was then celebrated annually in late October as either Labor Day or Eight-Hour Demonstration Day. In 1899 government legislated that the day be a public holiday from 1900. The day was celebrated on different days in different provinces. This led to ship-owners complaining that seamen were taking excessive holidays by having one Labor Day in one port then another in their next port. In 1910 the government “Mondayised” the holiday so that it would be observed on the same day throughout the nation.

Labor Day (AP/Ramzi)
Workers from different organizations and industries chant slogans as they march in a rally, demanding improvement of conditions in their workplaces, Sunday, May 1, 2005 on the occasion of Labor Day, in Lahore, Pakistan.

United States and Canada

Labor Day is generally regarded simply as a day of rest, and political demonstrations are rare. Forms of celebration include picnics, firework displays, water activities, and public art events. Families with school-age children take it as the last chance to travel before the end of summer. A few teenagers and young adults view it as the last weekend for parties before returning to school.