Today is the first Monday of September, meaning it’s Labor Day in the US and Canada! But do they have Labor Day in the UK, too? Yes, but we celebrate it in May. Let’s explore the different origins of Labor Day around the world.

Why do the US and Canada celebrate in September and how and when is Labour Day celebrated in the UK?

Labor Day in the US

Labor Day, as the spelling suggests, is the American version of an internationally recognised holiday, Labour Day.

In the US, Labor Day marks the end of summer and beginning of autumn. It is a day off work to recharge ahead of the changing of the seasons, and all that may bring. It also marks the day in the year after which we shouldn’t wear white (apparently)!

However, the holiday’s origins are quite a bit darker than that.

Labor Day was created by the Workers’ Movement in the 19th century and became a federal holiday in the US in 1894. It emerged during the dark days of US labour, when the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks for a basic wage, with children as young as five working in factories and mines across the country. Thus, workers used every means they could to advocate for their rights and ask for better work conditions.

Image by different because of covid-19.

US Labor Day vs UK Labour Day

Many countries around the world celebrate their own versions of Labor Day during the summer months. For example, in many parts of Europe and the UK, 1 May is traditionally known as Labour Day. So why does the US celebrate it in September?

Well, it might have something to do with an unlucky date.

On 4 May 1886, a labour protest in Chicago’s Haymarket Square turned into a riot after a bomb was thrown at police. At least eight people died as a result of the violence. This incident, remembered as the Haymarket Riot, was viewed as a setback for the labour rights movement in the US.

As such, they decided to forego the traditional date and instead celebrate Labor Day in September to avoid a clash, if you excuse the pun.

Labour Day = May Day

The May Day public holiday is celebrated on 1 May in the UK. This coincides with International Workers’ Day, a celebration of workers’ rights similar to Labor Day in the US.

In a curious turn of events, 1 May was chosen as International Workers’ Day by socialist parties meeting in Paris in 1899 to celebrate the Haymarket riots in Chicago. This is entirely at odds with the reasoning behind choosing the US date.

In the UK, May Day holiday was also set up for other reasons: the Gaelic festival Beltane, which celebrated the first day of summer traditionally fell on 1 May.

Photo by Chris Slupski on <...>

Therefore, although not commonly known as Labour Day in the UK: 1 May is still celebrated by many within labour movements.

In recent years, May Day‘s origins have come to the fore, with a resurgence in large-scale protests and marches organised by socialist movements and trade unions.

Related Topics