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Labour Day

Labour Day 2018 and 2019

International Labour Day, or May Day, is a public holiday in Indonesia.

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While May Day is celebrated in numerous countries across the world, the holiday is very important to many working Indonesians. International Labour Day is recognized in Indonesia on May 1st each year. In Indonesian, International Labour Day is known as Hari Buruh. International Labour Day celebrates workers’ rights.

History of Labour Day

To fully understand the importance of International Labour Day in Indonesia, you must know about the history of Indonesia during the 20th century. 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 1997, many Indonesian generals and former allies of Suharto began to create factions within the Indonesian army. Many of these Indonesian military leaders were pro-Suharto, but some of them were on the side of the Indonesian citizens. This dividing of the Indonesian army greatly increased the odds that a civil war would break out in Indonesia. To maintain control of the Indonesian government, Suharto and his political allies orchestrated riots across Indonesia. By escalating ethnic tensions in the diverse nation of Indonesia, Suharto hoped to divert attention away from the oppression of the Indonesian government. Suharto’s ultimate goal was to destroy the unity of the Indonesian people and dissolve democracy. Suharto may have succeeded if a capable individual did not come to the aid of the Indonesian people.

During the 1998 riots in Indonesia, Indonesian intellectuals and students understood that the conflicts were being orchestrated by the New Order. Despite their revelation, this group of intellectuals was powerless to do anything against the military power of Suharto and his regime. Fortunately, Wiranto, a powerful general in the Indonesian army, supported the Indonesian students and intellectuals who opposed Suharto. With the help of Wiranto and his faction of the Indonesian army, the students took control of government buildings in Jakarta. This emboldened many other Indonesian people to support the cause of Wiranto and the students. After Jakarta was secured, Wiranto informed Suharto that the Indonesian army was no longer under the control of the New Order. Since all of Suharto’s influence came from his control of the Indonesian military, Suharto was powerless. On May 21, 1998, Suharto resigned. Suharto was replaced by Yudhoyono.

In 2013, President Yudhoyono gave in to the will of Indonesian people and decided to establish International Labour Day as a public holiday. On May 1st, 2014, International Labour Day was legally celebrated for the first time in Indonesia since 1966. Each year, over 150,000 people flock to the streets of Jakarta to participate in May Day celebrations.


All International Labour Day celebrations in Indonesia are oriented around workers’ rights and the improvement of working conditions for Indonesian people.

The largest International Labour Day event in Indonesia is the Workers’ March. Each year, huge crowds gather in Jakarta to march to the Presidential Palace. This march is centered around themes like overcoming oppression. 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.

International Labour Day, or May Day, is an Indonesian holiday that allows Indonesian workers’ to unite against oppression and demonstrate solidarity.