May Day is a celebration of labour and labourers, the creators of the wealth of nations. It is a day to demonstrate the strength of the working people, the alliance of workers and peasants, unity of the trade unions and labour movements and to express solidarity, nationally and internationally.
The COVID-19 pandemic is haunting the world. It has been devastating the lives of people due to mass unemployment, poverty, hunger and despair. The conditions are worsening as economic inequality grows. The poor and working people are bearing the burden of the lockdown the world over. This situation has placed huge challenges before the working people and their political and trade union organisations.
The plight of daily wage earners and the migrant labourers is miserable. Hunger deaths are being reported. The lockdown in India has impacted the future of our unemployed young people, students and children. Despite the propaganda about online teaching and learning, the poor, homeless, and hungry children do not have access to any such facilities.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has come out with an alarming report that 40-crore workers in India are at risk of falling deeper into poverty. They are mainly from the informal sector.
The current situation in our country has not changed the character of the BJP-RSS combine. It has not changed the neoliberal trajectory of the present government
May Day has a glorious history. For the first time in May 1886, the Chicago Haymarket Square witnessed a heroic struggle of the working people who demanded an eight-hour working day. It was a demand to tell the capitalists that just because they had appropriated the means of production as private property, it did not mean they could ruthlessly force the workers to slog for endless hours without compensation to produce the surplus. It was to convey the message that working people would fight for their rights. In this heroic struggle, several workers were martyred. The Haymarket struggle inspired the working masses of the world. The Second International of the workers of the world — in which Friedrich Engels, the companion and comrade of Karl Marx, played a leading role — declared in 1889 that May Day would be observed as an international day for working people.
In India, too, we have the heroic history of working-class struggles. It is a matter of pride that May Day was first observed in India way back in 1923 in Chennai. Trade union movements started emerging during British and French rule in India. The jute workers of Calcutta were organised under a trade union in 1854. The Madras Press Workers Union was formed in 1903 and Coral Mill workers union in 1908. Though the AITUC was founded in 1920 and we are proudly celebrating its centenary this year, the B&C Mill workers in Chennai organised a trade union and got it registered on April 3, 1918. This was the first registered trade union in India. The textile mill workers of Pondicherry (Puducherry) were fighting for an eight-hour working day under the leadership of the Communist Party of India. On July 30, 1936, there was a brutal attack on the workers and 12 of them were martyred. This finally forced the French colonialists to accept the demand for an eight-hour working day for the first time in Asia.
During the days when the people of India were fighting for independence from colonial rule, the trade unions stood at the frontline of the national movement. Their struggles got intertwined with political struggles.
Even today, working people have to play a leading role in the fight against the present government. The BJP-led NDA government is aggressively attempting to change labour laws to curtail the rights of working people. One can see this in the attempt to increase the working hours to 12.
With political power, the BJP-RSS is promoting its agenda of subverting the secular, democratic republic of India and turning it into a theocratic Hindutva Rashtra. This emerging situation demands that working people have a political and ideological education. Politics is nothing but economics.
World capitalism is in very bad health. Instead of spending on public health, education and social infrastructure, there is competitive spending on military and war equipment. The report released by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reveals that India is the third-largest military spender, after the US and China. Socialism is the only alternative. But there is the lure of fascism and neofascism. This trend is encouraged by the corporate capitalists.
On this May Day, while saluting the working people for their historic revolutionary role, we renew our pledge to fight for socialism — a society free from exploitation, injustice and all forms of discrimination.
Let us observe this May Day during the lockdown by reaching out to the needy and vulnerable. Let the working people rise against the present government as they rose against the colonial rulers for the independence of the country.
The article was first published in the print edition by the title ‘Renew the pledge’ The writer is general secretary, CPI