With the consistent growth of Neo-liberal mode of development, attacks against workers is on the rise across the world. Workers are being jailed in countries like Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Turkey and many others for standing up for the rights of fellow comrades.
In India, there has been a systematic attack on workers’ rights, done through codification of laws. The government, by disguising their attempts as ‘simplifying labor laws’ is launching a critical attack on workers right by diluting the laws. The new codes make it easier for employers to violate workers’ rights in India. Quite obviously, the trade unions are not amused and are protesting.
However, the trade unions in India itself are in crossroads. With them not being able to keep pace with the capitalist development process, many find itself confused and are in doldrums. The trade unions density continues to decline. More than 90% of the informal workers are to be organized. It’s a long road for the Trade Unions in India.
Thus, this May it is a time to reflect, learn from mistakes and intensity the struggles. It’s a time to move beyond symbolism and mere glorification of past struggles and truly represent the cause of the workers. It’s a time to move beyond our party affiliations and truly unite for a stronger Trade Union movement. It’s a time to stand united and fight for a better and fairer world.
Brief History of May Day
There was a time when working from ‘Sunrise to Sunset’ was the norm for workers. Workers had to toil hard for 12-16 hours in pitiable conditions. Exploitation was rampant. The Trade Unions, tired of their situation, decided to battle against it and gave the rallying cry for 8-hour work day, at Chicago, held in 1884. The workers were organized under the Banner of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (which later became the American Federation of Labor). At the convention, it was proclaimed that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1, 1886.”
Come May 1, 1886, Millions of workers across America joined the struggle. Chicago, which became the centre point of the Struggle saw about 40,000 workers gathering and participating in the strike. More and more workers continued to walk off their jobs until the numbers swelled to nearly 100,000, yet peace prevailed. It was not until two days later, May 3, 1886, that violence broke out at the McCormick Reaper Works between police and strikers. As the police attempted to disperse the protesters on May 4 in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, a bomb was thrown at them, killing seven officers and at least four civilians. Police subsequently rounded up and arrested eight anarchists, all of whom were convicted of conspiracy. A court sentenced seven to death and one to 15 years’ imprisonment. Four were hanged, one committed suicide rather than face the gallows and two had their sentences commuted to life in prison. Those who died are regarded by many on the left, including both socialists and anarchists, as the “Haymarket Martyrs”. The Haymarket affair galvanized the broader labor movement.
In 1889, the Second International, the international organization for workers and socialists, declared that May 1 would from then on be International Workers’ Day.
In the US, however, the eight-hour work day wasn’t recognized until it was turned into law in 1916, after years of strikes, protests and actions in favor of it.