131 Years of May Day: Remembering the Haymarket Martyrs!
March Forward With Working Class Struggles For a World Free From Exploitation!
Join Celebration of May Day
With Protest Songs and Poetry
and Effigy Burning against Haryana BJP Govt’s Decision to Scrap May Day Celebration
On 1st May Indian workers will join workers around the globe to celebrate the May Day – the international day of the working class.
May Day Legacy: May Day commemorates the legacy of the martyrs of Haymarket, Chicago who were sentenced to death in 1886 for their role in struggling for the 8-hour day and other workers’ rights. Today in India, we see how the Maruti, Honda and Pricol trade union activists are facing trumped up charges for the ‘crime’ of having asserted the right to unionize; the 8 Haymarket leaders too were arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to death on fake charges of murder for having led a struggle for the 8-hour day. But they used the trial as a platform to expose the entire capitalist system – and their words inspire the working class movement worldwide today. August Spies, one of the 8 Haymarket leaders, announced in open court:
“… if you think that by hanging us, you can stamp out the labor movement-the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil and live in want and misery-the wage slaves-expect salvation-if this is your opinion, then hang us! Here you will tread upon a spark, but there, and there, and behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames will blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out. The ground upon which you stand is on fire…”
In India we have seen how the ‘sedition law’ is used to target the voices of justice and people’s resistance in society. August Spies was charged with the ‘crime’ of distributing ‘seditious’ material in the form of the German workers’ newspaper. He responded by reading out, in Court, extracts from the ‘respectable’ ruling class newspaper, which openly advocated the most brutal forms of violence against political opponents, especially the working class.
Albert Parsons, another of the Haymarket leaders, exposed the vicious anti-worker nature of US newspapers, which, during the 1877 Railroad Strike wrote: “Workers who demand higher wages or bread for hungry children deserve bullets, hand grenades, no vote, no freedom…”
The fights of the working class and their blood spilt in the course of those struggles in the past 130 years since the Haymarket martyrs achieved many rights for the working class. But on the other hand, in the recent times of globalization, the systematic violence on workers and consistent scuttling of their rights have also intensified.
Mounting Offensives on Workers’ Rights: The Modi Government, in the name of ‘ease of doing business’ for Indian and global corporates, is busy diluting and eroding hard-won laws protecting labour rights and the environment. Here are some of major ongoing assaults on workers’ rights:
Eroding Labour Laws: The Modi Govt is desperately trying to “amend” almost all existing labour laws. This will keep 90% workers out of the scope of the safety of labour laws and surely allow unchecked license to “hire and fire”. The implementation of these anti-worker moves has already begun in BJP ruled states like Rajasthan. For instance among major changes, the Industrial Disputes Act now allows companies employing up to 300 staffers to lay off workers or close down without taking the government’s prior approval. Earlier, those with up to 100 employees were allowed to do so. Factories Act now applies to an establishment which uses electricity and employs 20 workers and which does not use electricity and employs 40 workers (earlier it was 10 and 20 respectively). Rajasthan government has also made getting recognitions for unions more difficult. The rush now is to impose the “Rajasthan model” across the country. Further, Modi government has, in a particularly shameless manner, called for “self-certification”. In place of inspection by the labour department, the owner of a company will annually certify whether the company is following all laws!
Legitimizing Child Labour: The PM who claims to have been a tea-seller as a child, is the one legitimizing child labour today. The amendments approved by the Modi Government prohibit children between 14-18 from employment in hazardous occupations, while allowing children below 14 to be employed in ‘non-hazardous’ work in ‘family or family enterprises’. The argument given by the Government to legitimize child labour is that the ‘social fabric’ of the country would be damaged if child labour in ‘family’ work is banned. ‘Social fabric’ here is a common Sangh Parivar euphemism for caste hierarchy and caste-based division of labour. This is made clear by the Government official who told activist Harsh Mander, “What is wrong with this? Should not the son of a lohar or ironsmith, learn to be an ironsmith, or of a weaver to be a weaver?” Further, the phrase “hazardous” remains extremely narrowly defined, in reality offering no protection to children.
Contractualisation and the Plunder of Workers’ Wages: The Modi Government shamefully does not agree to the long pending demand of trade unions to the issue of equal wages to the contract workers as per the rules under Contract Labour Act; on the contrary saying that all contract workers will be paid minimum wages! But this is already guaranteed by the law. This only exposes government’s tacit acceptance that workers are not even being paid as per the existing minimum rates by the employers and its keenness to continue with this illegality, in order to allow corporates to loot the hard earned wages of workers.
Lowest Increment in Minimum Wages: The government is not introducing the much-needed raise in minimum wages according to the spiralling inflation and sharp price rise. The Modi government accepted the recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission which is said to be the worst so far from the point of view of workers’ interests as it recommends the lowest increment in minimum wages.
Denial of Minimum Wages, Denial to Acknowledge Labour: The Government continuously has been refusing to recognize lakhs of Anganwadi, Mid-day meal, ASHA, Para-teachers and others as ‘workers’. They have been denied even their right of statutory minimum wages and allocations of funds for these schemes gets slashed budget after budget.
Job-less Growth to Job-Loss Growth– Rising Unemployment and Mass Retrenchment: Employment opportunities have suffered enormously during the Modi regime. Data from the Labour Bureau showed that job growth in India had fallen to a six-year low in 2015. The survey shows that in the eight key labour-intensive industries, only 0.1 million jobs were created in 2015, even worse than the former low of 0.3 million in 2012. Very recently, we have seen mass retrenchment in leading Indian IT companies, from Wipro, TCS to Infosys. Indeed experts are terming the unfolding phenomenon as a down slide from Job-less Growth to Job-Loss Growth.
Tax Exemptions and Willful Default of Bank Loans – Free Hand for Corporate Loot: In sharp contrast to snatching away of existing rights and violation of minimum wages of the working class, Modi govt has given a free hand to the crony corporates to loot our money with impunity. As per the admissions in 2017 Union Budget, during 2016-17, exemptions in corporate tax stands at a whopping Rs. 83,492 crore! Add to it humongous defaults in bank loans by the willful corporate defaulters. As per the estimates of “India Ratings”, the stressed loans (=Non Performing Assets + Restructured loans + Written off assets) with domestic banks are expected to be above a whopping Rs 13 lakh cr. (DNA, 13 May 2016). PSU banks have written off Rs 1.54 lakh crore bad loans during 2013-2016 June (PTI, 07 Dec 2016). More shockingly, Economic Times (20 Dec 2016) alerted that Rs 7.4 lakh cr debt is likely to be written-off!
Sanghi Symbolisms to Curb Working Class Consciousness and Normalise Exploitation: When BJP was fighting the 2014 election, their manifesto had promoted the concept of “Industry Family”, in which “industry owners and labours bond as a family.” Inside the BJP’s patriarchal concept of ‘family’, there can be no room for Unions and workers’ struggles and entitlements; and the BJP Manifesto had, likewise, promised to “bring together all stakeholders to review our Labour laws”. In the name of “Industry Family,” patriarchal restrictions, abuse, and violence are used to discipline women workers. In the tradition of the good old feudal-patriarchal family, the ‘mai-baap sarkar’ has snatched away the rights of workers to promote the profits of corporates. Our Prime Minister has called himself the “Mazdoor No.1”, and his most powerful “maaliks” like corporate biggies Ambani, Adani and Hinduja are scripting the snatching away of all labour laws.
At the same time, BJP leaders ranging from Yogi Adityanath to several other MPs, MLAs and other prominent figures, are openly inciting communal hatred, violence and killings on the pretext of ‘cow protection’, ‘protection of women’ and ‘counter-terrorism.’ They are seeking to divide India’s working class on communal lines, and ensure that the working class cannot unite against the attacks on labour rights and democracy. May Day is an occasion for the working class to reaffirm its resolve to resist such hate-mongering and communal violence, and rally to defend democratic rights and equality, not only of workers themselves at the workplace, but of every section of vulnerable citizens – including minorities, Dalits and other oppressed castes, and women.
Why Is the RSS-BJP Afraid of May Day Legacy? BJP government is afraid of the worker’s struggle and the glorious history of workers’ movement. Last year, the RSS declared May Day as “alien” to “Indian Culture”. Few days back, the Haryana Govt of BJP said that it will not celebrate 1st May as Labour Day anymore, instead it will observe only Vishwakarma day. Let us point out that the workers who observe Vishwakarma Day need no ‘directive’ from the RSS or BJP to do so – rather the RSS and BJP are trying to appropriate Vishvakarma Puja and pit it against May Day! This clearly reveals that the BJP and RSS, serving corporate interests and eroding workers’ rights today, would like workers to forget the legacy of May Day entirely. The Government seeking to make workers toil 12-15 hours a day, obviously wants workers to forget the history of struggle for an 8-hour day! Let us also point out that the religious festival of Vishwakarma Puja is traditionally a day for the artisans to celebrate their tools. Today, when capitalism has snatched the tools from most artisans and monopolised all the means of production, and exploits workers’ labour, the meaning of May Day and workers’ struggle against capital is more relevant than ever!
Deeply opposed to workers’ rights and struggle, the RSS-BJP routinely resorts to crafty wordplay to peddle its pro-worker image. Modi’s slogan of Shrameva Jayate (Victory to Work) is one such example. But look at the irony, while claiming to valorise work in the name of Shrameva Jayate, the RSS and BJP work for ‘Parajay’ (defeat) of the ‘Shramik’ (worker)!
Today, global capital and their local agents are being given a free hand to exploit workers. MNCs based in the US are able to exploit the labour of workers in India or Bangladesh. At such a time, the message of May Day – of workers’ international unity and struggle against capitalism – is a message Indian workers will never allow to be forgotten.
Last year’s historic general strike on 2nd September and the continuing workers’ protests across the country have succeeded to a certain extent in pushing the government back in the matter of amendments of labour laws. Workers have organized big strikes in the coal, transport, public and government sectors. In many States including Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Assam, ASHA, Anganwadi, midday meal workers and contract/honorarium workers in government departments have been organizing huge struggles. Women workers in Bengaluru’s garment industry opposed the Modi government’s assaults on their hard-earned PF money so massively that the government was forced to step back. Sanitation workers in Bengaluru recently won significant increases in their wages while in Mumbai, sanitation workers recently won a landmark court verdict regularizing contract workers. Pricol and Maruti workers have received solidarity from the working class all over India and the world in their struggle for justice. India’s workers are unionizing, uniting and fighting back – in the face of brutal repression!
Long Live May Day’s Legacy of Working Class Struggle for Democracy, Freedom and Equality!