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Commemorating Labor Day

By: Madrileña de la Cerna - CDN Digital | May 01,2023 - 12:00 PM

(Editor’s note: This column was originally published on April 29, 2017 and written by the late Dr. Madrileña de la Cerna, who is a noted professor and a passionate advocate for recording local history, heritage mapping, and promoting  local culture. She passed away in July 2021.)

The Philippines celebrates Labor Day on the first of May to commemorate the hardworking men and women in our country. Most workers usually use the holiday to hold rallies and demonstrations where they would air their grievances and clamor for reforms.

Labor Day has its roots in the US where the public holiday emerged in the late 19th century when 10 to 16-hour work day caused unrest among laborers and led them to embrace socialist ideals that promised fair distribution of resources. Socialist groups sprouted and with the backing from large labor organizations, eventually proclaimed the 8-hour work day.

The decision garnered massive support from laborers; and on May 1, 1886, 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across US walked out and went on strike, staging relatively peaceful parades and demonstrations.

However, violence occurred after peace was broken between police and the demonstrators which were dominated by anarchists.

Eight anarchists were arrested and convicted of murder by a jury dominated by business leaders.

A history of struggle

The event has become known globally as International Workers Day and officially recognized as a public holiday in 66 countries, including the Philippines.

The US celebrates Labor Day on the first Monday of September per proposal for a workers’ public holiday from popular unionist Peter McGuire. The US celebrates Labor Day through product sales and at the end of summer than the actual roots of the holiday.

In the Philippines, Labor Day is a history of struggle.

The holiday was first celebrated on May 1, 1903 when more than a thousand workers were organized by the first union called Union Obrero Democratia de Filipinas (UODF) to march from Plaza Moriones in Tondo to Malacañang and demand the then American-led government for fairer working conditions. The UODF was founded on February 2, 1902 by Isabelo de los Reyes and Hermenigildo Cruz. Their union fought for the rights of the labor force during the American occupation.

De los Reyes was arrested in August 1902 for sedition, rebellion, and “conspiracy to raise the price of labor” and was succeeded by Dominador Gomez who led the aforementioned march where he was also arrested on the same grounds as De los Reyes was charged with.

On April 8, 1908, the Philippine Assembly passed a bill that officially recognized that the first of May as Labor Day, and declared it a national holiday.

On May 1, 1913, the other founder of UODF, Hermenigildo Cruz, organized the Congreso Obrero de Filipinas or Congress of Philippine Labor.

This congress lobbied for fair working conditions for the labor sector which included 8-hour working days, abolition of child labor, equal labor standards for women, and liability of the employers to their employees.

Synonymous with demonstrations

At the time of the American occupation, American firms made Filipino workers work for as long as 12 hours a day. So, 36 labor unions convened at Claro M. Recto Street under the leadership of the Congreso Obrero de Filipinas.

In 1931, the group split when a faction led by Crisanto Evangelista defected and formed another group that would be outlawed several years after for its affiliation with communist groups.

Since then, Labor Day is often synonymous with demonstrations and rallies organized by the labor sector.

In 2012, more than 40 labor federations formed a coalition called NAGKAISA, which pressed the Philippine government for an increase in the minimum wage, to end labor contractualization and for the regulation of fuel prices in the market.

Labor Day is both a celebration and a commemoration dedicated to all the workers and their fight for equal and stable working conditions as well as job opportunities that can potentially become careers.

In the Philippines, Labor Day is a time to raise awareness about labor issues such as contractualization and unemployment, and to assert rights of Filipino workers. It is the time recognize and honor the contribution of Filipino workers to the economy of the country.

Labor Day celebrates the “dignity” of labor.


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TAGS: day, labor, Labor Day

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