The worldwide practice of Labor Day is believed to have originated in the US. This came about in the late 19th century in which Americans were working 10- to 16-hour work days in bleak and dangerous conditions. Only business owners were making a profit while the employees were kept under oppressive contracts. These circumstances eventually led to the May 1st walkouts in 1886 in which about 300,000 laborers staged strikes all over the country. The fruit of all that struggle was the 8-hour work day and eventual development of labor rights in the decades to come. Many countries soon followed suit and established their own labor rights. Despite actions having begun on May 1st, Americans celebrate Labor Day on September 2nd thanks in part to later legislation.
In the Philippines, we celebrate Labor Day on May 1st to commemorate a similar struggle in 1913. Most Filipinos of the time were manual laborers who worked twelve hours a day and often for seven days a week.
This reached a boiling point on May 1st of 1913 when thirty-six labor unions organized a strike in one of the busiest streets in Manila. The date was purposively selected to be symbolic of the US’ own movements in 1886. They referred to themselves as Congreso Obrero de Filipinas (Congress of Labor of the Philippines or the COF). The challenges were much more difficult than that in the US, especially considering that the Philippines was an American colony at the time. Eventually, the COF fell apart in 1929 due to a schism led by some communist members. Calling themselves Katipunan ng Anak Pawis (Proletarian Labor Congress of the Philippines or KAP), this communist group would eventually be outlawed in 1931 due to violent tendencies.
Nearly a hundred years later from the first demonstrations, Filipinos enjoy Labor Day as a national holiday. Since it is held in summertime in the Philippines, it is celebrated differently by others who use the holiday to take vacations. Other Filipinos use the date as a rendezvous point in their capitals for nation-wide protests and strikes. Today, the struggle still continues as farmers, fishermen, and other marginalized labor sectors are finding new ground to air their concerns thanks to the involvement of technology and new leaders in the field..
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