Labour Day is a holiday every 1 May in Indonesia to celebrate the contributions of workers to the nation’s economy, and to draw attention to the workers’ rights that have been gained so far – and those that are still being fought for.
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International Labour Day was originally celebrated in the late 19th century to honour the workers who were killed during the Haymarket Massacre in the United States.
In 1920, the Indonesian people celebrated International Labour Day to support their desire for expanded workers’ rights and higher pay. While International Labour Day was not a public holiday during this period, it was still very important to the working class in Indonesia. Indonesian people casually celebrated International Labour Day on May 1st until 1967.
In 1967, President Sukarno was ousted by Suharto, a conservative military leader. The people of Indonesia did not support this political change. Sukarno was a beloved Indonesian patriot who risked his life many times for his nation. Many scholars believe that Sukarno was ousted because of his support for socialist policies.
Since Sukarno supported socialist policies during the height of the Cold War, the United States opposed him. The United States supported anti-communist Suharto to eliminate the chance that Sukarno would transform Indonesia into a socialist state. With the help of the American Central Intelligence Agency, Suharto established the New Order.
The New Order was an anti-communist regime that was based on military leadership. With the New Order in power, rallies, public demonstrations, and Labour rights movements were banned in Indonesia.
As a result of this, International Labour Day celebrations in Indonesia were considered illegal. If an Indonesian citizen participated in an International Labour Day celebration during this time, they could be imprisoned. This prevented most Indonesian people from protesting or voicing their concerns in public.
After years of oppressing the Indonesian people, Suharto’s New Order came crumbling down in 1998.
In 2013, President Yudhoyono, the first Indonesian President put in power by direct election, established Labour Day as a public holiday. On 1 May 2014, Labour Day was formally celebrated for the first time in Indonesia since 1966.
The largest Labour Day event in Indonesia is the Workers’ March. Each year, huge crowds gather in Jakarta to march to the Presidential Palace. People who participate in the Workers’ March often wear the uniform of their Labour union. Flags and banners are also common. Theatrical protests about Labour issues are also a common sight during the Workers’ March.