In the late 19th century, 10 to 16 work hours per day was common along with the deaths and injuries that resulted from it. Eventually, workers felt the need for reforms and in turn sought socialist and anarchist ideals in hopes of better working conditions and fair allocation of resources. As labor organizations started forming, including the Federation of Organized Trades and Union, they were able to proclaim the eight-hour work day.

It was on May 1, 1886 when 300,000 workers from 13,000 businesses across the US went on strike to show support for the declaration. Two days after, peace between the police and the protesters was broken and six months of violence ensued. The anarchists, which had already dominated the ranks of the striking workers, called for a public meeting at Haymarket Square to discuss the incident with the police. But when a bomb from an unknown source hit police ranks, the police retaliated by firing indiscriminate shots.

A jury, majority of which were business leaders, convicted eight anarchists of murder when only three were present during the shootout. The day of the Haymarket Massacre is now recognized and celebrated in 66 countries, including the Philippines, as International Workers’ Day.

The first Labor Day in the Philippines was recorded in 1913 when Filipino workers and laborers—around 36 labor unions—convened a labor congress. Uniting under one name, they were the Congreso Obrero de Filipinas (COF) or Congress of Philippine Labor. The COF’s advocacy is focused on the fight for legislating the eight-hour work day, condemning the American Federation of Labor for excluding African-Americans and Asians in their membership rolls and obtaining absolute and true Philippine independence.

Today, unions grant workers the same liberating power a long, hard-earned history has accounted them for. While unions are borne out of mass worker actions, even violence, this doesn’t mean that they only serve a single cause—unions can benefit both employees and employers.

Advantages to employees

Collective bargaining

The heart and soul of labor unions, collective bargaining increases a group’s negotiation powers. An employee might feel unheard or powerless when it’s only them who wants to forward a concern. But if they’re part of an organization in the workplace, other members will also be aware of issues and they can all opt to forward this concern together.


Unions are formed by members of different sectors, which means as one, they can reduce inequality. This fixes the disparity between middle- and high-income workers, union and non-union members (a wage increase for a union may mean a wage increase for all), and even women and racial wage gaps.

Strengthen democracy

During policy debates, unions are included as a means for management to be more responsive to worker needs. Laws, standards, and norms are remodeled to match the concerns of union members. Unions provide intervention during employee-related matters as well as improve job security and predictability as benefits, wage increases and better working conditions are pushed forward.

Advantages to employers


Standardized salaries, wage increases, and other work benefits can save a company an enormous amount of time. Negotiating with individual employees requires a great deal of effort from the human resources department. Drafting a collective bargaining agreement with a union might be a serious undertaking, but it simplifies compensation and budgeting procedures as employers know what costs they will expect in the coming years (contracts with labor unions usually last for three to five years). Unions also provide ease in discipline (as stated in contracts) and fairness across all workers.

While unions are borne out of mass worker actions, this doesn’t mean that they only serves a single cause
While unions are borne out of mass worker actions, this doesn’t mean that they only serves a single cause

Reduced turnover

The greater the seniority of a union member, the higher the wages and the better the benefits—which means employees are more likely to stay in a company. Although they might switch from one department to another, their tenure still lengthens. They can also be excellent resources for training new employees. Most employees also pride themselves on working for an employer for a long time as this reflects on their commitment and longevity.

Employee satisfaction and well-being

Workers whose concerns are heard and carried out are more likely to stay as they feel valued and trusted. Aside from covering for their own welfare, attention to their overall well-being also increases quality of performance. Under fairer, better, and more amenable working conditions, their motivation and satisfaction increases, which results in better work.