Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Our labor will never be in vain

Today is Labor Day as celebrated  in many countries worldwide.  The event  has been marked both with festivities and rallies and demonstrations of the labor sector due to  its historical roots.  An annual holiday to commemorate the economic and social achievements of workers, the celebration was largely influenced by two inter-related  events.  The first was the passing of a resolution at the Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States  related to their advocacy on  8 hour work day.  The second event was the infamous  Haymarket Massacre in Chicago on May 1, 1886 whose commemoration gave birth to declaration of May 1 as  International Workers Day.

Labor Day recognizes the efforts of workers worldwide.
© Allegra Williams

The eight-hour day movement  advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest. This was in reaction to the previous labor practice  wherein  workers were being forced to work 12-14 hours a day, six days a week. From Wikipedia,  we learned that in 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions passed a resolution stating that eight hours would constitute a legal day's work from and after May 1, 1886. The resolution, which gained broad  support from workers,  called for a general strike to achieve the goal due to failure in legislative methods.

But on the scheduled date for mobilization, what started as a peaceful rally ended into a tragedy  when in the evening while the police were  trying to disperse  the crowd,  someone threw a bomb killing several policeman immediately. The police retaliated by firing shoots. Thereafter,  a rampage occurred  resulting to death and injury  of  both police and  demonstrators workers.

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According to the Historical Calendar (1521-1969) of the National Historical Institute, the first official celebration of Labor Day was held on May 1, 1913, when 36 labor unions convened a labor congress at Cine Oriente on CM Recto Street, then known as Azcarraga, in Manila. This gave birth to Congreso Obrero de Filipinas. It was also in 1913,when  a law establishing Labor Day was passed.

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However,  according to Philippine Government Information site, as early as 1903, when the country was  still under the US colonial government, Filipino workers were already fighting for their rights, specifically, the increase of wages.  Reportedly, over  100,000 workers organized  by the Union Obrera Democratica de Filipinas (Democratic Labor Union of the Philippines) trooped to  Malacañang on May 1, 1903 for anti-imperialist rally while pressing for workers’ economic rights. Prior to this, the Union's leaders met with William Howard Taft to demand that May 1 be declared as Labor Day. But it was not granted. Neither was their  request to organize a rally. Still they pursued it. Consequently, the Union president Dominador  Gomez was arrested for charges of illegal association and sedition.

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The historical notes related to the celebration of Labor Day remind us of sacrifices of  those who labored hard for the welfare of the workers. Many  had not witnessed the fruit of their labor. Some were persecuted while others were punished and condemned.  But history vindicates them. This is  an inspiration to all those who are engaged in any advocacy towards change and development. No matter how rough and tough times and circumstances are, these are not reasons to give up. For as implied in the Pauline epistle, we are assured, our labor will never be in vain, after all.

As we  honor the  workers and the entire labor sector today for their role in the  national and global economic activities,  we also recognize the role of labor movement in our development. Many of the benefits and rights that we enjoy today in our respective employment are result of their struggle.

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