100 Years Later

One More May Day

Atanu Chakravarty

This Year's May Day in India marks the completion of a century of the first May Day celebration in India, after 37 years of sacrifice of the Chicago workers in 1886.The first May Day flag was hoisted by Singaravelar at Marina Beach in Chennai on May Day, 1923.The day became the day of the working class of the whole world because it was a day of declaration of war by workers for 8 hours work day which was subsequently won.

In April 1896, Lenin wrote a leaflet for the Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class for May Day, where he emphasised that workers all over the world need to improve their material conditions, to raise their wages, to shorten the working day, to protect themselves from abuse, and must read intelligent and useful books .Lenin said,'' Our strength lies in Union; our salvation in united, stubborn and energetic resistance to our exploiters.'' During that period, various towns of Russia-- Yaroslavl, Taikovo , Kiev, Moscow and many others witnessed a series of strikes, a majority of which ended successfully for the workers. ''But even unsuccessful strikes'', Lenin mentioned in this leaflet, "are only apparently unsuccessful. In reality they frighten the bosses terribly, cause them great losses, and force them to grant concessions for fear of a new strike.'' Those valuable teachings are still relevant today.

But, this May Day marks the reversal of the hard won rights of the workers and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is hell bent to snatch all the above by passing the four labour codes: the right to strike, the right to form unions are now under severe attack. All Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)- ruled states have started implementing 12-hour work, introducing fixed term employment, women working in night shifts, removing the vast majority of industries from the purview of any labour law by introducing a threshold level of workers strength of 300,etc. Even non- BJP ruled states are now no exception. Barring a few, most of the states have already framed state rules under the light of the Centre’s notorious labour codes.

The Modi Government has already accorded statutory status to National Floor Level Wages which is around Rs 5,000 per month. Now, they want to depress wages by making minimum wages as a non-mandatory category as and when the codes are implemented. Even the states led by opposition parties like DMK have introduced bills to exempt some industries or group of industries from implementation of the Factories Act, in order to comply with the demand of the corporates. The budget allocation for MNREGA scheme is being drastically slashed to push rural workers to rush to urban areas only to facilitate availability of cheapest labour in abundance for the corporates.

The noted development economist Mr Jean Dreze makes startling observations regarding drastic decline in the growth of real wages from 2014-15 to 2021-22. He observes, ''The growth rate of real wages between 2014-15 and 2021-22 was below one percent per year across the board: more precisely 0.9 percent, 0.2 percent and 0.3 percent for agricultural labour, construction workers and non-agricultural labour respectively.'' In several states, like Haryana, Kerala, Punjab, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu, real wages have actually declined in the period mentioned above. Underemployment, reduced wages, wage cut, retrenchment, lockouts, lay-offs and closures have become the order of the day. The much trumpeted rapid economic growth is a misnomer so far the human development indicators are concerned. The real wages remaining stagnant, disparity and inequality are growing phenomenally.

The gender-wage gap is increasing at an alarming rate. Women are being paid much lesser for the same and similar kind of job. The government as an employer doesn't even recognise more than a million persons who are in the forefront of delivering certain essential services as regular workers. Anganwadi workers, para teachers in the Sarva-Shikha Abhijan and ASHA are denied of employee’s rights.

Modi's vision for 2047 is to create a workforce similar to gig and platform workers who are desperate and frustrated. This is a class of workers who are not entitled to get any legal protection like job security, wage security and social security. After assuming the presidency of G20, a working group has been formed to work on developing a workforce akin to gig and platform workers, training institutes are being made as training centres for corporate companies. The funding and training modules are being synchronised with corporate needs. The teachers of the ITIs are proposed to be trained by the same corporate companies. Welfare boards under various acts, including construction labour board are being systematically dismantled, replaced by a mirage of e-SHRAM, which offers nothing more than a death benefit of two lakhs and a permanent disability benefit of one lakh. This e-SHRAM is being pushed only to drastically cut down whatever meagre benefits hitherto was offered by the welfare boards.

Modi's model of development narrative of producing more jobs through more and more privatisation and lakhs of crores of concession and tax relief to corporates has only proved to be a big hoax. The country is facing the highest rate of unemployment and job loss. This phenomenon is best explained by the fact that the biggest corporate empire owned by the Adani family provides just around twenty thousand jobs!

On this May Day 2023, the working class of the country must again stand up and pledge to reverse all the attacks of capital as was witnessed in the case of historic farmers' movement which forced the despotic Modi regime to repeal three anti -farmer black laws. Let the workers' be reminded of the eight hour song that used to be sung in 1880's Chicago, whose last lines go something like this:

“We want to feel the sunshine; We want to smell the flowers
We're sure that God has willed it,
And we mean to have eight hours.
We're summoning our forces from
Ship Yard, shop and mill;
Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest
And eight hours for what we will''.


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Vol 55, No. 45, May 7 - 13, 2023