Today is Labor Day in the Philippines as it is in many countries. Labor Day is synonymous with, or linked with International Workers’ Day, which occurs on May 1. The date was chosen to commemorate the 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago. A general strike for the eight-hour workday began on May 1 that year.
Three days later, the police were dispersing the crowd supporting the strike when someone lobbed a bomb at the police. The police responded by firing on the workers, resulting in the death and wounding of a large number of police and civilians. A similar incident took place in Milwaukee the following day.
In 1889, a congress of labor leaders from various countries held a meeting in Paris to call for international demonstrations on the anniversary of the Chicago protests. In 1904, the International Socialist Congress held in Amsterdam called on “all Social Democratic Party” organizations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate vigorously on the First of May for the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace. The congress made it “mandatory upon the workers’ organizations of all countries to stop work on May 1. Eventually, it was decided to formally recognize May 1 or May Day as an annual public holiday in countries affiliated with International Workers.
In other countries, Labor Day is celebrated on a different date, often one with special significance for the labor movement in that country. In Canada, Labor Day has been celebrated on the first Monday of September since the 1880s. This tradition can be traced back to December 1872 when a parade was staged in support of the Toronto Typographical Union’s strike for a 58-hour work-week.
In the Bahamas, the traditional date of Labor Day is June 7, in commemoration of a significant workers’ strike that began on that day in 1942. However, Labor Day is celebrated in the Bahamas on the first Friday in June in order to create a long weekend for workers.
In Jamaica, Labor Day has been celebrated since 1961 on May 23, in commemoration of a labor rebellion that began on May 23, 1938 and that led to the independence of Jamaica from the British Empire.
Labor Day in Australia is a public holiday on dates which vary between states and territories. It is the first Monday in October in some states, the first Monday in May in others. Labor Day is celebrated on different days in March — the first, second, and fourth Mondays — by still other states and territories.
In the United States, Labor Day is on the first Monday of September, marking the end of the summer season and the students’ return to school.
Most countries celebrate Labor Day with assemblies where the leaders voice the labor sectors’ demands for supportive legislation and policies from government and their pleas for higher wages and better working conditions from private enterprises. In the United States the typical activities include parades, fireworks display, and big sports events.
In communist countries such as the People’s Republic of China, North Korea, and the former member countries of the Soviet Union, May Day celebrations feature grand parades complete with awesome display of military might, with the top leaders of the country in attendance.
In the Philippines, Labor Day activities do not differ much from those in other countries. Labor union members assemble in large plazas, the union members delivering speeches that clamor for higher wages, more fringe benefits, and better working conditions. Non-union members simply take a break from work, either resting at home or spending the day in fun places.
May 1 in the Western world is spring time. Temperature ranges from 10 degrees Celsius to 20 degrees Celsius. But May 1 in the Philippines is almost always a hot day, temperature usually around 36 degrees, making it unpleasant both for passionate rallies and for simple marches and peaceful assemblies.
Perhaps a change in the date of Labor Day is in order.
After all, Labor Day being observed on May 1 can be traced back to an event that occurred in a distant place in the distant past. The event has no significance to the labor sector in the country.
A significant day for labor in the Philippines is June 17. On June 17, 1953, president Elpidio Quirino signed the Magna Carta of Labor. As president Quirino said: it “was designed to secure industrial peace in the country, defining the rights, duties, and obligations, as well as privileges of both the laborers and management.” But June 17 is five days after June 12, a national holiday to celebrate Independence Day.
Another significant date for Labor Day is Jan. 20.
On Jan. 20, 1872 an incident similar to an incident in Jamaica that led to its independence took place in Cavite. On that day, about 200 soldiers and workers in Fort San Felipe in the port town (now known as Cavite City) of Cavite Province staged a mutiny when they received their pay and realized the personal taxes, from which they had been previously exempt, as well as the falla, the fine one paid to be exempt from forced labor, had been deducted from their salaries. The taxes required them to pay a monetary sum as well as to perform forced labor.
The rebel soldiers and their allied workers believed that their uprising would incite Filipino nationalists into joining them and spur the growing nationalist movement into a national revolution. However, no other group joined the rebel soldiers. The Spanish forces in the fort routed them quickly.
Many of the participants in the failed mutiny were executed. Nationalist Filipinos, suspected of instigating the uprising, were rounded up. Some were exiled, others executed. Among them were Filipino secular priests Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora.
While the mutiny itself failed to incite a revolution, the execution of the three priests and a number of nationalist movement leaders, none of whom had anything to do with the mutiny, drove many Filipinos to turn against the Spanish colonial government. The hostile sentiment intensified into belligerent Filipino nationalism and culminated in the Philippine Revolution of 1896.
If Jan. 20 is too close to other national holidays — Jan. 1 or New Year’s Day and Feb. 25, anniversary of the EDSA Revolution — another date that has some significance to the labor sector in the Philippines is Oct. 26.
In the 1930s, farmers in Central Luzon frequently came to bloody encounters with the hacienderos.
Although born to a wealthy family in San Fernando, Pampanga, Pedro Abad Santos, a physician and lawyer (he topped the board exams for both professions) espoused land reform and protection of the toiling masses from landlord abuses. On Oct. 26, he founded the Socialist Party of the Philippines. He was the eldest brother of chief justice Jose Abad Santos, designated acting president of the Philippines before president Manuel L. Quezon went into exile.
But most non-union affiliated workers, and they constitute the great majority of the work force, do not like to be associated with socialism or socialist groups. They may not entirely accept Oct. 26 as an appropriate day to celebrate Labor Day.
Then maybe Dec. 31 would be a suitable day for Labor Day. After all, it is always declared a national holiday for no reason other than its falling between two holidays, Dec. 30 or Rizal Day, and Jan. 1, New Year’s Day. It would be appropriate to call it Labor Day and consider it a holiday as it marks the end of a full year of labor.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.