Number one for English language teachers

Festivals: Labor Day

Type: Reference material

On the first Monday of September the USA, Canada, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands celebrate the creation of the labor movement. 

Labor unions existed in Canada in the early 1800s but legislation was adopted to make it illegal for workers to form unions, but groups of workers formed their own organizations anyway. British tradesmen who immigrated to Canada took with them the traditions of the older British trade union movement which started an international relationship with Britain. In time, the ties between Canadian and American workers became closer and eventually the relationship with British unions disappeared and was replaced with a closer relationship with labour organisations in the USA.

The workers looked to the unions to protect them against wage cuts, job insecurity and to improve working conditions. At the beginning of May, thousands of workers and their families would march peacefully through the city streets into the parks where they would enjoy picnics, and listen to speakers talking about working together to force employers to reduce working hours. They promoted the idea that if workers stood together on important issues, then they would gain respect, dignity and better working conditions. The employers responded by using the police to arrest the activists. In 1872, the Canadian government changed the law so it was no longer illegal to be a member of a trade union. In 1889, labour groups from around the world gathered in Paris and declared the 1st May would be International Labor Day.

Today, parades take place to honour the social and economic achievements of the workers and the contributions they have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of their countries. In the USA and Canada, Labor Day was moved to September, but many other countries continue to honour it on the 1st May.

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