Celebrated every year on May 1, ‘May Day’ is a historic festival for working people worldwide. On this day, the working class takes pride in the success of their struggles and declares with renewed energy the resolve to be free from exploitation.
Two things are noteworthy this time. Firstly, this May Day has come against the backdrop of the unmatched victory of the peasant movement, which was achieved due to the broad unity of the peasant organisations and the solidarity of the country’s working class. Secondly, today’s era is very challenging for the working class and the entire humanity.
On the 75th anniversary of independence, we must remember how the Modi government has been destroying the constitutional pillars of sovereignty, democracy, secularism, social justice and the federal system during the last eight years of its rule. To save the country from these attacks, it has become most important that the people hold their unity and social fabric, which is under attack from corporate-communal collusion.
First of all, let us consider the importance of May Day. In America, May Day, dedicated to the Chicago Martyrs of 1886, is regarded as a unique international symbol of the struggle for equality, justice and self-respect, rising above religion, race, community, region, etc.
The Chicago movement is considered historical among the workers’ struggles which emerged in the 19th century around the demand for eight-hour work. On May 1, 1886, labour discontent was registered in the form of a large gathering, and millions of workers in America went on strike. Witnesses write that the way the huge convoys of 20,000 demonstrators descended on the streets, the sight was seen for the first time. A labourer was martyred that day. There were also protests against his death on May 3, when police fired on the workers, and four workers were martyred.
The next day on May 4, the police planned a violent incident. A bomb was thrown toward the police in which a policeman was killed. On this pretext, seven prominent labour leaders were prosecuted and sentenced to death in 1887. Four labour leaders were hanged, one committed suicide in prison before hanging, and two were commuted to life imprisonment.
The forgery of the trial can be gauged from the fact that in 1893, Governor John Peter acquitted the convicts of life imprisonment, saying that there was not enough evidence in the whole trial and the proceedings of the trial were not just. Regrettably, those who were killed by hanging could not return, despite the just decision of the Governor.
It cannot be said by mere coincidence that there is a striking similarity between this case and the case of Bhagat Singh and his associates. Keep in mind that Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt threw a bomb in Parliament in protest against the Public Safety Bill. The British government introduced the Public Safety Bill to curb labour rights. On September 28, 2017, the Lahore High Court, in an unprecedented decision, certainly set an example by declaring that the execution of Bhagat Singh and his associates was not justified.
After the execution of the prominent leaders, the labour movement also suffered a setback. With the rule of eight-hour work in many places, the workers started celebrating May 1 as Labour Day worldwide.
The first May Day was celebrated in Madras in 1923 with the initiative of K. Singaravelu Chettiar, the then well-known trade union leader and freedom fighter in India. It will be a complete century in the next year, i.e. 2023.
This long journey has created such an incredible history in which the working class and the natural curiosity of human liberation have made new paths. Many countries got freedom from imperialist slavery, apartheid, monarchy, and capitalism during this period.
The socialist system has proved its superiority in every respect during this period. Success has been achieved in eradicating poverty and illiteracy. During COVID-19, especially in health, the world saw the difference between capitalism and socialism.
The celebration of May Day has never been a ritual. In the current era of neo-liberalisation, its relevance has increased even more. Today, socio-economic inequalities have taken a frightening form.
According to an Oxfam India report, India’s 10 wealthiest people hold 57% of the country’s total wealth, while the bottom half of the population has only 13%. The profits of corporate houses grew enormously even when lakhs of migrant families of the country were forced to eat stumbling blocks during the lockdowns.
Rising poverty, unemployment, hunger and backbreaking inflation have created a crisis of existence for the poor sections. Society has taken science and technology to such heights that development should have been used for betterment of the people. Still, capitalism used it for its profit and threw the people out of employment.
Women workers are first shown the way out while laying off. In the states of Haryana, Delhi, Gujarat, etc., women workers have successfully fought the government’s oppression in the recent past. How ironic it is that this reserve force of unemployed is also proving to be a boon for the corporate.
For capitalism, maximum profit is paramount, above the public interest. On the contrary, if society is to be taken forward in overall development, then public interest has to be kept above profit. If this does not happen, then the current all-around crisis of the system is sure to deepen even more. There should be no doubt that it is this unemployment which capitalism has been using as a boon that also ensures its inherent crisis and, ultimately, its destruction.
The policies of the ruling classes of our country are entirely dedicated to the corporates. Just as three agricultural laws were imposed, four labour codes have also been introduced by repealing many labour laws. After their implementation, the owners of the companies will be free to fire the workers at their will. The demand for eight-hour work, which was accepted centuries ago, is also being denied, and permission is being given to work for 10 and 12 hours. This will turn the workers into bonded labour.
Everyone can see how the ruling class is trying to break the unity among peasants and workers by making them fight each other to draw their attention away from the widespread resentment. It has become necessary that the working people, while fighting to protect their livelihood and trade union and democratic rights, should also seek to protect the values of fundamental rights, social justice and secularism as enshrined in the country’s Constitution. In the guise of power, a polarisation game is being played by spreading communal hatred among them. They will be able to protect their livelihood only by maintaining mutual harmony. All these are victims of corporate robbing. Corporates are making super-profits by looting both the farmer and the consumer. The gap between raw and finished goods is widening, and it is sure to tighten the noose of debt on the farmers. The backbreaking inflation and falling wages are other vivid examples of this. The country’s valuable assets are being handed over to domestic and foreign companies at a penny price.
Workers, farmers, farm labourers, workers, women, students, youth and other sections will have to move towards fighting for their livelihood and saving the country by creating a broad platform. In these platforms, the class unity of labourers and farmers will also have to be prioritised. The plans of America and other imperialist countries to tighten the grip of loot on the world will have to be defeated.
Today, with this message of unity and strength, we must pay our tributes to May Day and all the martyrs of the democratic movements.
Before his execution, August Spice, a May Day martyr, said, “The voice you are stifling to silence, the time will come, that silence will prove to be more powerful than our voice.”