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May Day
by The FHL Research Team
Date: 5/20/2005

May is a month marked by holidays and events all throughout the world. On the first day of the month alone, countless occasions are celebrated, each of a different origin and with a different purpose. As such, the first of May has come to be known as May Day.

Traditional English May Day rites and celebrations include Morris dancing, the crowning of a May Queen, and dancing around a Maypole. In Oxford on May Day, many pubs are open from sunrise. Madrigals are still sung from the roof of the tower in Magdalen College.

May Day also marks springtime celebrations such as Walpurgis Night in Northern Europe; Beltane in Ireland and Scotland; and Roodmas. In 1995, the Roman Catholic Church also added to the May Day festivals by making it Saint Joseph’s Day, thus Christianizing this holiday as the day of “Saint Joseph, the Worker.”

Yet the first of May is most often associated with the commemoration of the social and economic achievements of the labor movement around the world. It is known as the International Workers Day, or Araw ng Paggawa in the Philippines.

Labor day came to be celebrated on the first of May because in 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions demanded an eight-hour workday in the United States, to come in effect as of May 1, 1886. This resulted in the general strike and the U.S. Haymarket Riot of 1886, but eventually also in the official approval of the eight-hour workday.

In Berlin, Germany, workers hold yearly demonstrations on May Day. In present-day Germany, Walpurgisnacht celebrations of pagan origin are traditionally held on the night before May Day. On this occasion, bonfires are lit and young people go out to the streets to party.

In the Philippines, the day marks the celebration of Labor Day, a national holiday that honors workers all over the country. It is marked by parades and gatherings though more often than not, it is a time for airing the grievances of the labor sector through rallies and demonstrations.

Labor Day in the Philippines was first celebrated in 1903. Organized by the Union Obrero Democratica de Filipinas (UODF), more than a hundred thousand workers marched to Malacañang on May Day that year to demand better working conditions.

The demonstration alarmed the American colonial government. The Philippine Constabulary, composed of Americans and Filipinos, raided the printing press of UODF. They arrested its president, Dominador Gomez, for illegal assembly and sedition.

Undaunted, the labor movement continued its struggle. On May 1, 1913, Congreso Obrero de Filipinas was organized. Led by Hermenegildo Cruz, it battled for an eight-hour working day, abolition of child labor, just labor standards for women, and liability of capitalists.

Throughout the years, the Philippine labor movement grew despite some factional differences among adherents. There are now unions for almost every type of worker and these unions are affiliated with some national confederations. The unions help workers gain more benefits under existing labor laws. A militant federation, the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), even involves itself in political issues. All these make slogans and streamers during May Day rallies more colorful and forceful.

However, some May Day events can turn into riots. Just in recent history, it was also on the first day of May in 2001 when “EDSA 3” or “People Power 3” took place. It was the ‘surprising uprising’ of the “masa”—the supporters of impeached president Joseph “Erap” Estrada against newly installed president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. It was however more of a political revolt.

This year will be no different when May Day is celebrated. Rallies and demonstrations are expected to take place as labor makes its needs known.


Students’ Philippine Almanac. Quezon City : Children’s Communication Center and Filway Marketing, 1991.


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