Labor Day: History & Significance in the Philippines

According to the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), the first documented labor day in the Philippines was held on May 01, 1913 at a movie house, Cine Oriente, in what is now known as Recto Avenue in Manila. It was a full house of 36 labor unions that would later become the Congreso Obrero de Filipinas (COF), the Congress of Philippine Labor.

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The COF’s principles were influenced by the thought and organization of Labor Unionist and Author, Isabelo “Don Belong” De Los Reyes, Father of Filipino Socialism. He founded the first labor federation in the Philippines, the Union Obrera Democratica de Filipinas (UOD)  or Democratic Labor Union of the Philippines in 1902. Co-founder Hermenigildo Cruz, Don Belong’s protege, eventually led the COF.

The first protests of these labor groups demanded true independence from American influence, the institution of the 8-hour work day instead of the usual 12 hours, and wage increase. The government at the time, as is the case today, responded by arresting and jailing participants and leaders, including Isabelo De Los Reyes in the demonstrations of 1902.

Is there anything wrong with the workers’ demands? If none, why should they be treated so roughly, so unjustly by the government? The harsh treatment of laborers and unionists remain today.

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The minimum wage and the 8-hour work day are the results of protests, the result of the collective action of workers. So the thinking that nothing good results from protests is misguided and ignorant.

How should the Filipino Worker celebrate the holiday of Labor Day when contractualization still remain in place? When the fastfood crew lives in labor insecurity? How should the Filipina Worker celebrate Labor Day when she has to leave her children to earn decent and sustainable wages abroad?

Objectively speaking, the major demands of labor unions—just working conditions and wages—are largely influenced by the social and economic analysis of Karl Marx. What is his analysis? That workers do not get a fair share of the fruits of their labor while the capitalist/investor gets the majority of it.

Furthermore, Marx noted that only a few rich and powerful control the resources and wealth of society and that through culture and institutions like religion and education, workers and people with little to no economic and political resources continue to be exploited and conditioned not to resist.

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Economic inequality results in political inequality. As in Bamboo’s Tatsulok, “Ang hustisya ay para lang sa mayaman.”

And unless the unjust, exploitative, and inhuman situation of our workers is changed, removed, every Labor Day will continue to be dominated by the red banners of protests.



National Historical Commission of the Philippines
The Kahimyang Project
Banner Photo from Google

Dom writes for pay by day and writes for passion by night. He is a Japan major at the University of the Philippines. He’s fond of ramen and anime but not of nice people.

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