Tuesday is May 1, otherwise known as Labor Day or International Workers’ Day, and Google is marking the occasion with a Doodle featuring the tools of various trades — from hardhats and shovels to mixing bowls, books and laboratory beakers. But the celebration of workers and labor has a long history, from its radical roots in early socialist movements, to long holiday weekends, to the sometimes violent protests it’s known for today.
It is now recognized as a national holiday by most countries around the world. Here’s what you should know about why we celebrate labor:
A Day With Deeply Political Origins
May 1 was already celebrated around the world as May Day, an ancient springtime celebration involving maypoles, flowers and dancing. But the date was later proposed as one to recognize workers’ rights by the Second International, a coalition of socialist and Marxist parties and labor groups founded in Paris, amid a worldwide push for better working conditions and heightened class consciousness.
Labor Day in the U.S.
The holiday’s origins are tied to U.S. history. The International Socialist Conference chose the date in Paris in 1889 in part to commemorate what became known as the Haymarket affair, when a peaceful protest for an eight-hour workday was bombed, sparking a riot that left several police officers and protestors dead in Chicago on May 4, 1886.
Oregon became the first state to recognize labor day as an official public holiday in 1887, reflecting the growing clout of trade labor unions in the U.S. President Grover Cleveland declared it an official national holiday in 1896, though many states already celebrated Labor Day with festivities such as ticker-tape parades and carnivals. But in contrast to many other places, the U.S. and Canada traditionally mark Labor Day on the first Monday in September.
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