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Beyond a Public Holiday: 5 Historical Labour Day Protests You Need To Know About as a M’sian!


Source: Vin News & PSM

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If you’re a part of the working force, than you’ve probably noticed that Malaysia has protests almost every year on Labour Day to call for better workers’ rights such as improved working conditions and wages for everyone.

Although it’s great that we have a day off to rest, Labour Day or Hari Pekerja in Malaysia is more than just a public holiday.


The labour movement in Malaysia has a long history of activism and has played a crucial role in shaping the country’s political and economic landscape.

On that note, it’s time for us to learn some valuable facts and take a look at the top 5 local labour protests throughout the years that you should know as a Malaysian!

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1.Goh Tun-ban, Malaya’s most known Anarchist

First up, we go wayyy back to the year 1919 to pre-independence Malaya. Our historical fact starts with one Anarchist by the name Goh Tun-ban who is also an editor for the Yik Khuan Poh newspaper at the time.

On May 1, 1919, Goh Tun-ban published a special article in the newspaper that centred the labor movements around the world, especially for the May Day celebration that year.

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Of course British authorities were alarmed by this ideology and arrested him in efforts to suppress labour movements but despite their efforts, union workers continued to spread throughout the state.

Go Tun-ban is regarded as one of Malaya’s earliest recorded and most known Anarchist.


2.  Malaya’s First Labor Day rally recorded in 1921

Did you know that our ancestors were a fan of protesting?

Long before former Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman declared 1st May as a public holiday for workers in the early 70s, people in Malaya “celebrated” their own way.

The first ever Labour Day rally recorded on Malayan soil was in the year 1921 by a group of anarchists in Ipoh, Perak.


Workers, students alongside their teachers gathered together to mark the occasion and show their solidarity for labourers fighting to gain better working hours, rights and wages.


3. P.Ramlee protested for better working rights for Malayan Artists

It’s not just workers in factories and mines who formed unions, but even film actors and behind-the-scene workers came together to form the Malayan Artistes’ Union, also known as the Malayan Artists Association.

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In 1957, the union lead by P.Ramlee of production house, Shawn Brothers, staged a successful strike to demand justice for five fired workers and union activists.

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120 actors, assistant directors, technicians, songwriters, and film workers staged a strike to express their solidarity and protest against the termination of five fellow workers that later were re-hired after all their protest demands were met.

That’s a pretty cool fact related to our beloved, iconic and greatly missed, Malaysian actor, P.Ramlee.


4. 2011 was the first year Malaysians protested for the government to set a minimum wage

Prior to 2012, Malaysia had no minimum wage law, making the 2011 protest on May Day even more historic. At the rally in KL, several hundred protesters held up signs advocating for the implementation of a minimum wage.

May Day

Then in 2012, former Prime Minister, (now jailed) Najib Razak announced a measly RM900 wage for workers in Peninsular Malaysia and even more atrocious RM800 for workers in Sabah & Sarawak.

Just 11 years ago protestors were advocating for the minimum wage to be raised to RM1,500 and only this year did the government officially pass that law.


5. The tradition lives on for 2023

For this year’s May Day rally the tradition continues on as 87 NGOs alongside political parties and around 200 people walked along Dataran Merdeka with several demands to continue to improve the workers’ rights here in Malaysia.

Protestors walked for 2km from Maju Junction to Medan Pasar with the theme “Gaji Bermaruah dan Jaminan Makanan” (Fair Pay and Food Security), decked out in red with their placards, chanting “Hidup Pekerja” (Long live workers).

According to Dang Wangi district police chief ACP Noor Dellhan Yahaya, the police have opened two investigation papers under Section 9 (5) of the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 after yesterday’s rally.

The organisers of both gatherings are summoned to the Dang Wangi District Police Headquarters to record their statements.

Dellhan also advised the public not to get involved in gatherings that do not comply with state laws to avoid being prosecuted.


Among the protestors’ demands were the enforcement of the recently passed RM1,500 minimum wage as many employers are said to not comply with it as well as better job initiatives for the Orang Asal and Orang Asli (indigenous people of Malaysia).



May all their efforts as well as our ancestors who fought for our rights go unforgotten.

It’s pretty interesting how Malaya’s early history shows that Anarchists were the driving force to bettering our nation’s working conditions, plus we have them to thank for today’s public holiday! On one hand though, perhaps not much has changed as the government still has strict rules around rallies.

What do you think of the organizers being investigated after the May Day walk yesterday?

Share your thoughts in the comments!


Also Read: Syed Saddiq Has Been Disallowed From Entering UiTM For ‘Interns Are Not Free Labour’ Talk With Students

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Source: A Job Thing
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