Labour Day in Yemen is celebrated every 1 May, as it is in much of the rest of the world. This is a holiday to celebrate the contributions of workers to the economy and society, and also a time to highlight where progress still needs to be made towards fair and safe working conditions.
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Although Labour Day is on the official Yemeni holiday calendar, it is very little celebrated and even unknown by many in the country. There are several reasons why this is so.
First of all, many Yemenis are without a job. And when you aren’t employed, you obviously don’t get “a day off” for Labour Day. Secondly, there are many who see the government and the private sector as both exploiting workers in Yemen. They think, therefore, that having a public holiday to promote workers’ rights is a sham and don’t want to celebrate it.
Historically, the origin of the holiday is the 4 May 1886 Haymarket Massacre during a labour protest in Chicago, USA. As the world industrialised in the mid to late 1800’s, the dismal working conditions in many factories led to a protest movement.
The Haymarket Massacre became a key moment in the movement, leading to the establishment of Labour Day, then called “International Workers Day”, to demand things like an 8-hour work day, safer working conditions, and increased pay.