The history of Labour Day, worldwide has its seeds in the labour movement in America in the 1800s. The industrial revolution completely radicalized the labour force and a labourer was viewed only as an object rather than a human being with an agency of its own. During industrialization, workers in factories used to work 15 hours a day, sometimes more and even child labour was permitted. Exploitation by the owners was rampant and the workers had no rights whatsoever. Their living conditions were pathetic and their standard of living horrible. Burdened by the oppression of the owners, they were reduced to abject poverty.
Labour day has a tremendous significance for communism, since communism as an ideology that revolves around the worker. Labour day is an ode to all the workers and the recognition of their rights as human beings. In 1886, May 1st was chosen as a date for celebrating International workers day in Chicago to recognize a labour demonstration that took place as a result of the police inflicting brutality on several workers. Labour day is a way to reinforce and reaffirm the struggles of workers and their rights. The economic perspective of looking at workers just as another commodity that aids the production process, dehumanizes the very aspect of them. The commodification of labour and alienation of it were two very important concepts given by Marx. The production process is the core of a capitalist society and so are the workers. It is very necessary to acknowledge and implement the rights of the workers and provide them with conducive working conditions. Still under the colonial rule, the decade of 1920’s was marked with immense political activism. Labour day has its roots in the Gandhian philosophy coupled with communist ideology. The communist movement gained momentum in the nationalist struggle for Independence. Inspired by Gandhi’s teachings of non-violence and the communist beliefs, Communist leader Malayapuram Singaravelu Chettiar raised the red flag in Chennai on 1st May.The President of the Communist Party declared 1st of May as a national holiday. May day has an ostensibly huge significance for communist and socialist parties of India.
Even though 1st May acknowledges the rights of the workers and is an ode to them, the reality is far from the utopian ideal of every worker having rights and benefits. Numerous corporations both in India as well as worldwide exploit workers, make them work in harmful conditions and reap profits on the account of their struggle for survival. The recent case of Amazon workers being made to work beyond their scheduled hours is just the tip of the iceberg which has many more corporations. Today developed countries outsource their work since developing countries provide cheap workers. This leads to the exploitation of the workers that go on to work for more than 15 hours, with no paid leaves and no breaks.
The outsourcing of labour has severe negative consequences on the workers of the developing country. The owners of the developed countries maximize their profits whereas the workers get peanuts. Bangladesh is a classic example of this mistreatment and abuse of the workers by their first world bosses. The garment factories of Bangladesh breed slavery where the underpaid workers work for more than 15 hours without any basic safety measures. The global chains outsource their labour to the developing countries like Bangladesh, Uzbekistan for their cheap labor to cut costs and increase profits. This cutting of costs comes with the heavy price tag of modern day slavery. There are tremendous serious violation of human rights and this has resulted in deaths of the workers. With no insurance or any kind of safety net, the worker is once again seen as a commodity that can be used, reused and sold. There is a continuous breach of labour laws and human rights that are due to the toxic mix of requirement of cheap products from the developed countries, poor economic conditions of the workers.
India has been plagued with cases of exploitation of workers. Even though political awareness and the emergence of labour unions has reduced the intensity of exploitation, workers haven’t yet come out of the clutches of the profiteering owner. Workers still continue to work in unsafe conditions, without paid leaves, breaks, insurances or any kind of benefits. They are still underpaid and exploited. Since 1800s, with the labourer for the first time being recognized as a human entity with their own agency and rights, it seems like we haven’t progressed that much. The struggle for power between the Haves and the Have nots, the Bourgeois and the Proletariat still continues. May day is a symbolic representation of a free worker that is yet to see the light of the day.
Picture Credits: India.com