This holiday with Canadian origins affirms the dignity and honour of working people everywhere.
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Labour Day is a celebration of the labour movement’s success in improving the situation of workers. Many of the things we now take for granted, such as paid holidays, fair hours, unemployment insurance and safe work places, are the result of hard-fought battles.
Labour Day was first celebrated in Toronto on April 15, 1872. It was on that day that the Toronto Trades Assembly, the original central labour body in Canada, organized the country’s first significant workers’ demonstration. Ten thousand Torontonians came to lend their support, watch the parade and listen to speeches that called for the abolition of the laws that stated that trade unions were criminal conspiracies. It was still illegal to be a member of a union and to go on strike at that time. This was a defining moment in Canadian labour history.
Later that year, on September 3, 1872, another labour parade was organized in Ottawa. The mile-long procession wound its way to the residence of the Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald. MacDonald was hoisted into a carriage and carried to Ottawa City Hall, where he vowed to ban Canada’s “barbarous” anti-labour laws. He kept his promise; by the end of the year those laws were history.
Labour Day celebrations were initially celebrated in the spring, but when the Parliament of Canada declared it a legal holiday on July 23, 1894, if was moved to the early fall. It is now celebrated on the first Monday of September.
Labour Day around the World
The United States, inspired by the Canadian labour movement, began celebrating Labour Day in the 1880s.
Around the world, Labour Day is celebrated at different times. In Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia, it’s called May Day and is celebrated on May 1. In New Zealand the holiday is celebrated on the fourth Monday in October, and in Australia the dates vary from state to state.