Labour day: Why do we celebrate?

May 1st is a national holiday for various countries in Europe. Dubbed labour day, it is an annual holiday to celebrate the achievements of workers, and so many public and even private business will be closed today. But why?

Labour Day has its origins in the labour union movement in the US, specifically the 1884 strikes in Chicago. The strikes by the Federation of Organised Trades and Labour Unions of Canada and the United States, were protesting against long working hours. They advocated the eight-hour day which gave eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest.

Labour day

Half a million American workers went on strikes across the country, and Chicago, being the heart of the struggle, saw an estimated 40,000 people strike and get injured in the subsequent crackdowns. This mass protest date was then adopted by labour unions worldwide in 1904 as a symbol of solidarity and has subsequently been a holiday for many countries of the world, with Belgium making it a public holiday in 1948.

So, how are Belgian labour rights?

Like France, Belgium workers have strong representation from their unions. There are many laws written that allow them to strike should they deem their working conditions unfair, as we see in the Lidl protests currently.

Belgium also has the third highest minimum wage in the world, placing behind Australia and Luxembourg, and labour costs actually went up last year. And although jobs differ in their role and working hours, the 8-hour system celebrated today is what most Belgians, and indeed Europeans, base their working hours off.