In Tunisia, Labour Day is celebrated with quite a bit of gusto every year on the first of May. The main celebrations are centred in the capital city of Tunis, but the events take place throughout the whole land.
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In downtown Tunis, the banners of various labour unions are waved by those gathered for processions, demonstrations, and festive events. Many crowd the streets, but many also crowd into places like Menzah Sports Palace to hear Labour Day speeches.
Defending workers’ rights is a key theme every Labour Day in Tunisia. Part of the reason for the vigorous way in which this is done is the recent overthrow of a dictatorship in 2011. The restoration of democracy meant the freedom to form trade unions, strike, and demand redress of grievances. And with high unemployment and low wages despite high economic growth, it is no wonder that protest is a regular part of Labour Day in Tunisia.
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.
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