In many countries across the world, workers, students and children get days off from their jobs, courses and schoolwork at the beginning of May to celebrate Labour Day – but not here in the Netherlands.
So what is Labour Day, and why isn’t it a Dutch holiday? Let’s find out!
What is Labour Day? Labour Day is an annual holiday centred around celebrating the achievements of workers. In many countries, the holiday is also closely associated with International Workers’ Day, which falls on May 1.
The day is often commemorated with parades, protests or demonstrations which tend to focus on workers’ rights, salaries, working hours and conditions.
When is Labour Day?While some countries celebrate their own version of Labour Day on a different date, in most countries – including much of Europe, Africa and Asia, and all of South America – Labour Day is celebrated on May 1. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, honour the day with a bank holiday which falls on the first Monday of May.
Why is Labour Day celebrated on the 1st of May?In countries where Labour Day is celebrated on May 1, the significance of the date is largely due to International Workers’ Day – an originally socialist holiday which is also known as May Day.
The day May 1 was chosen in connection with the protests that took place at Haymarket Square in Chicago in 1886, when workers went on strike demanding an eight-hour workday (in turn leaving eight hours for recreation and eight hours for rest). The strike turned violent; several protesters were killed by police, and a group of protesters threw a bomb at police officers. As a result, the event is now generally known as the Haymarket Riot or the Haymarket Affair.
Is Labour Day a communist holiday?With its link to May Day and International Workers’ Day, the celebration of Labour Day – especially in countries where it falls on May 1 – is inextricably linked to the Socialist moment. Even today, the holiday marks a significant date in the calendar in a number of communist countries. However, Labour Day isn’t generally regarded as a communist holiday – instead, it merely serves to honour and celebrate workers.
Why isn’t May 1 a Dutch holiday?May 1 might be a public holiday in most countries, but it isn’t one here in the Netherlands. Why? The country does acknowledge De Dag van de Arbeid, and the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker on May 1, but children are still required to go to school, and those with jobs are expected to work.
According to the Netherlands Trade Union Confederation (FNV), one of the reasons the Dutch government doesn’t acknowledge May 1 as a holiday is because, historically, the Netherlands celebrated Queen’s Day (Koninginnedag) on April 30. The union also notes that battles between Dutch trade unions and the government were “less violent” than in countries such as France and Spain, meaning the day has lost some of its significance here in the Netherlands.
Does the Netherlands celebrate Labour Day?So, May 1 isn’t a holiday in the Netherlands. But does the Netherlands do anything to honour the day?
Labour Day is a public holiday in the Caribbean Netherlands, on the islands of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba. Here in the Netherlands, the stock exchange is closed, and some people who work for the government, municipalities, banks and trade unions do get the day off on May 1 – but it is only a minority of the country’s employees.
Unions also try to include May 1 as a day off in collective labour agreements for their members. Political parties such as the Socialist Party (SP) and the Labour Party (PvdA) do also try to do what they can to recognise the significance of the date.
Celebrating May Day in the NetherlandsMay Day generally passes by unnoticed here in the Netherlands. If you feel like you’d like to do something to mark the occasion, you’ll struggle to find a way to do so – there are unlikely to be any protests or parades taking place.
If you want to get into the spirit of the day, have a listen – or a sing-a-long – to De Internationale; the Dutch version of the international anthem for the workers’ movement:
Other Dutch holidays in MayThe Netherlands might not have a public holiday on May 1, but the country does have a couple of other notable days that it does celebrate in the month of May. The first of which is Liberation Day (Bevrijdingsdag) on May 5, which is a national holiday every five years.
Other holidays which regularly fall in the month of May are Ascension Day (Hemelvaart) and Whit Monday (Tweede Pinksterdag), both of which offer a guaranteed day off work or school.
Thumb: Ton Hazewinkel via Shutterstock.com.