“The Day will come when our Silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today”
These are the words engraved on the Haymarket Monument in Chicago. The origin of May Day is related to workers struggle for shorter working hours. In the 19th century, in the United States of America, this struggle for shorter hours gained momentum after August 1866 when the National Labour Union at its founding conference voted for action to secure legal enactment of the 8 hour day. Later, the American Federation of Labour was formed which in its convention in 1885 took a decision for strike on May 1, 1886. Preparations started for the strike. The 8-hour movement culminating in the strike on May First 1886 became in itself a glorious chapter in the fighting history of the American working class.
On May 4, a demonstration was held at Hay Market in Chicago to protest against the brutal attack of the police on a meeting of striking workers at the McCormic Reaper Workers on May 3rd, where six workers were killed and many wounded. The meeting was peaceful and about to be adjourned when the police again launched an attack on the assembled workers. Somebody threw a bomb, killing a police man. A battle ensued with the result that seven police men and four workers were dead.
After a farce of legal proceedings, workers leaders – Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engel, Adolph Fischer and Louis Lingg were sentenced to death, while three others, Samuel Field on, Oscar Neebe and George Schwab were awarded 15 years in jail. Parsons, Spies, Engels and Fischer were hung to death. Lois Lingg committed suicide the night before. Fieldon, Neebe and Schwab were pardoned six years later by Governor Altgeld who publicly termed the judgment as a travesty of justice.
On November 11, 1887, the prisoners were brought to the hangman’s platform. Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engel and Adolph Fischer stood before the crowd with hoods covering the faces. And then Spies spoke: “The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today”.
In June 1893, a monument was unveiled in Chicago’s Waldheim Cemetery in the honour of these May Day Martyrs.
It was at the first congress of the Second International, held at Paris in 1889, that May First was set aside as a day upon which the workers of the world organized in their political parties and trade unions, were to fight for the demand of 8-hour day. Since then, the working class in countries all over the world started celebrating the May Day.
May Day was first celebrated in India on May 1, 1923 in Chennai. Founder of Labour Kisan Party and one of the founders of the Communist Party of India, Malayapuram Singaravelu Chettiar was the spirit who organized the May Day celebration for the first time in India. The red flag – now a symbol of left movement –was used for the first time during the event, held on the beach opposite Madras High Court.
This Indian working class is now facing a very adverse situation. Their hard won rights are under attack. Whatever legal protections and rights the Indian working class got after almost ten decades of struggles and sacrifices in the form of various labour laws are being diluted in the name of labour laws are being diluted in the name of labor law reforms.
Contract work and outsourcing of work has become the order of the day. Violating all norms of law and even violating the principle of “equal pay for equal work” has become a norm. Regular nature of work is carried out through contract /casual workers who are paid much less than a regular workers despite doing the same work. Labour laws are being violated with impunity. The right to organize a union is under attack. The right to collective bargaining is under attack. Some workers, especially all those in the information technology sector are not allowed to form a union. Concerned government officials just refuse to register unions. Union workers are victimized. Workers are prompted by the employers not to join the union. Social securities are being diluted. So much so that the right to assured pension has been curtailed for government servants and others, and a new pension scheme, which does not assure pension and is share market linked, has been imposed. Public sector units are being sold at a song. Contract /casual workers as also many regular workers are forced to work for more than 10, even 12hours a day without any compensation. The workers in the information technology sector are the worst victim of this, most of whom are engineers and they are forced to work more than 10 and even 12 hours a day.
Against this, the working class is mobilizing and uniting itself to face this challenge. It has organized several protest actions and nationwide strikes to defend its rights. The last such big action was the all India strike on September 2, 2016, which was unprecedented in terms of participation of workers, its spread and mobilization. But despite all such united and country wide protest actions and strikes the government is going ahead with its anti-working class stance and continues taking more and more decisions against the interests of the working class.
The May Day calls for carrying out more struggles to counter the offensive of the government. The central trade unions realize the serious challenge before the Indian working class. They are organizing a massive convention workers in Delhi sometime in the last week of June or first week of July to chalk out an action programme.
Long live May Day! Workers of the world unite!!