Why do we Celebrate May Day?


    As a student, you must be familiar with May Day or what people usually call Labor Day, because it’s declared a national holiday and celebrated every year. And as we all know, May Day is always associated with demonstrations regarding the welfare of the working class, and especially concerning the wellbeing of the laborers or blue-collared workers. However, some people may still not know what events underlie the origin of this May Day.

    The timeline began in the late 1800's, when the labor working system in the United States was still in an unorganized state. The working class were forced to work for twelve hours a day, six days a week, and even children as young as five or six years old were working in coal mines, mills, and factories alongside dangerous machinery that are a risk to health.

    Then, on May 1st 1886, approximately 350,000 workers organized by the American Federation of Labor staged demonstrations and strikes in various states of the US. Two days later, the local government became increasingly concerned of the strike that continues to be widespread and finally sent a number of police officers to suppress the demonstration in Chicago, specifically at the McCormick Factory. The police officers at that time indiscriminately opened fire on the demonstrators, scattering the workers to save themselves from the attack. From this incident, four people were declared deceased while many others suffered minor to major injuries. This incident caused anger among workers, leading some of them to advocate revenge by using weapons. Among those who agreed with this action were Albert Parsons and August Spies, who are deemed as anarchists by the government. Both men were active members of the Knights of Labor organization. They called the workers to arm themselves in demonstrations that are to be held the following day.

    On May 4th 1886, workers held an action at the Haymarket Square roundabout. This time, the size of the gathered demonstrators were in a massive amount. The demonstration at that time was not just in demand of the eight-hour working day system, but also a form of protest against the police's repressive actions against workers. The demonstration was peaceful at first. In fact, some demonstrators eventually chose to leave the area because of the bad weather. There were only hundreds of workers remaining in the action. But later on, around 180 policemen arrived and asked for the demonstration to be disbanded immediately. When the last orator was about to step down, suddenly there was a bomb explosion from the police area. Subsequently, one person died while 70 other people suffered serious injuries. Additionally, the police responded to the explosion by shooting bullets at the workers who were still gathered. Eight workers died and 200 workers were injured as a result. “The Haymarket Martyr” tragedy is remembered to this day after the International Working Men's Association, officially named during an official meeting in Paris in 1889, designated that day as World Labor Day.

    Finally, in 1889, the World Socialist Congress decided to internationally dedicate Labor Day on May 1st. This resolution sparked May Day celebrations around the world, where workers united in demands for fairer working hours and other rights.

    In Indonesia itself, International Workers' Day was celebrated for the first time on May 1st 1920, when trade unions and workers held demonstrations and strikes to uphold their rights. In fact, the history of Labor Day in Indonesia began when this country was still ruled by the Dutchs, where the wellbeing of workers in plantation and industrial sectors were the worst. During colonial rule, workers and labor unions often experienced exploitation and oppression by their Dutch employers: inhumane working conditions, underpaid wages, the absence of occupational health and the lack of safety warranty drove workers and labor unions to fight for better rights and a fairer life.

    Unfortunately, Labor Day had stopped being publicly celebrated during President Soeharto's leadership, because it was considered similar to the communist ideology. Outbursts of protest from local workers existed during the New Order, though they were not massive. Their protests mainly revolved around the concern of living wages, menstrual leave, and overtime pay. Sadly, the government did not really care and continued to maintain a tone-deaf attitude.

    Then, during the reformation period and after the end of Soeharto’s presidency, Labor Day was celebrated once more in many cities around the nation, carrying various demands ranging from welfare to the elimination of the outsourcing system in the form of demonstrations. BJ Habibie, as the first reformed president, renewed the regulation concerning the freedom of trade unionism. Then, on May 1st 2013, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono declared Labor Day a national holiday.

    From year to year, May 1st has always been the date for workers to demand their rights, starting from: on-time wages, decent working hours, the right to maternity leave and menstrual leave, and the holiday allowance that we can enjoy until this time and age.


References :

Eric Chase. (1993). The Brief Origins of May Day. Https://Archive.Iww.Org/History/Library/Misc/Origins_of_mayday/.

Fachri Fahrudin. (2016, May 1). Sejarah Panjang Hari Buruh Sedunia dan di Indonesia. Https://Nasional.Kompas.Com/Read/2016/05/01/08070931/Sejarah.Panjang.Hari.Buruh.Sedunia.Dan.Di.Indonesia?Page=all.

Susi Setiawati. (2023, May 1). Sejarah Kelam dan Cerita Pahit Dibalik Hari Buruh 1 Mei. Https://Www.Cnbcindonesia.Com/Research/20230428102841-128-432996/Sejarah-Kelam-Dan-Cerita-Pahit-Dibalik-Hari-Buruh-1-Mei.

 Content Writer : Wamey Lintang Ayu Pradnya Paramita

Editor : Khaylila Jasmin Devani