Which countries celebrate International Labor Day on 1 May?
While the first Labor Day was celebrated in the US, the concept quickly went global. However, International Workers’ Day is not recognized in the US.
International Workers’ Day, better known as Labor Day, is celebrated in over 160 countries. However, while most of Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas have a holiday on 1 May, the United States is one of the few countries that doesn’t celebrate this holiday to recognize the efforts of workers to keep the cogs of society spinning despite being the inspiration for it on that date.
The United States, however, in fact got the ball rolling to take a day to honor and celebrate the struggles and achievements of workers and their unions. The first such celebration was held on 5 September 1882 in New York City. Within seven years it became an international holiday, but an international federation of socialists and trade unions in Europe chose 1 May.
The United States celebrates Labor Day in September, not May
While there were efforts in the past to have the US holiday coincide with International Workers’ Day, it has remained an outlier along with Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zeland. In the case of the US, the date for Labor Day was set as the first Monday of September in 1894 by lawmakers in an attempt to appease workers after troops were sent to quash a strike by Pullman workers in Chicago which shut down rail traffic from across the nation. During this federal intervention, more than seventy people were killed, and thousands were injured.
Moving the holiday to 1 May to coincide with the international celebration became a toxic idea during the Cold War and the holiday’s association with Communism. So thus, the United States has continued celebrating its holiday at what has also become the unofficial end of summer.
Why other countries celebrate International Labor Day on 1 May?
Another strike, almost a decade earlier and also in Chicago, that started on 1 May 1886 and where repressive actions by law enforcement were also implemented was the impetus of International Workers’ Day. The Haymarket Massacre occurred on the fourth day of the strike.
After police had shot at protestors trying to break through the police line guarding the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, anarchists called for a rally at the Haymarket Square the following day. Details on exactly how many people attended are unclear, but it too ended in violence after a bomb was thrown at police and they responded with gunfire. While the numbers of protestors killed and injured are unknown, only two deaths were confirmed, six police officers died and 60 were injured.
While the concept of having a holiday to celebrate workers was being contemplated in other countries, the events that took place in Chicago galvanized the efforts. An international federation of socialists and trade unions in Europe voted in 1889 at the first meeting of the Second International in Paris to organize a day of demonstrations the following year on the anniversary of the Chicago protests.
The year after, its was officially recognized as an annual event. Helpfully, the date also coincided with the traditional May Day celebrations that take place across Europe.