Message from Shri S. P. Singh. General Secretary, All India Guards Council (AIGC)
International Workers’ Day, also known as Labour Day in most countries and often referred to as May Day, is a celebration of labourers and the working classes that is promoted by the international labour movement and occurs every year on May Day (1 May).
MAY-DAY, a couple of words only.
But these two short words rouse the spirit of breaking the chains of exploitation in the hearts of the millions of millions and remind the listeners of the historic struggles of the united labour force irrespective of their religion, caste and creed. It reminds us of the road trodden by the dictators in the billion-foot procession. It reminds us of the high-up flattering red flag – the flag of which colour has been reddened with the warm blood of innumerable martyrs.
As Railwaymen, we must be proud that in the year 1877 the thousands of Railwaymen and steelmen sustained their heroic struggle against the risk-breaking military forces in America. A Brief review of history of struggle:
1531 – In Italy the workers of Silk Textiles demonstrated in procession for reduction of working hours and minimum wages
1538 – In England the shoe makers of London submitted a notice of strike demanding for the reduction of working hours and minimum wages.
1806 – In the USA the workers of the shoe factory of Philadelphia launched a strike for reduction of working hours and minimum wages.
1827 – In Philadelphia of USA, Building construction workers struck from work for ten hours of work
1834 – In New Yark of USA, Bakery Workers launched a strike for ten-hours of work.
1837 – TEN HOURS DUTY WAS LEGALLY ACCEPTED
1847 – BRITISH PARLIAMENT PASSED THE TEN-HOURS DUTY ACT
1857 – In the USA due to the Economic Crisis in the country the unemployment increased and the crisis deepened. At this Juncture, Trade Unions formed in Railways, Mines, Iron & Steel, Building Construction, Cigar, Press etc.
1866 – Sixty Trade Unions assembled at Baltimore and unitedly formed “NATIONAL LABOUR UNION”
1884 – The American Federation of Labour was constituted uniting all the Trade Unions of America and Canada and resolved to Observe 1st May, 1886 as International Demand to restrict the work to Eight Hours.
1886 – THE HISTORIC MAY-DAY: The reformist leaders of Knights of Labour began to shift from this movement and acted as saboteurs, as a result of which Knights of Labour gradually became very slim and Federations gained total strength. In the same year six lakh workers directly participated in the strike.
Chicago was the centre of strikes. New York, Washington, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Petersburg, Detroit, etc. also simultaneously played a prominent role to mobilise the workers in favour of the strike.
On 1st May there was huge assemblage in Chicago from every sector. Stopped work and none experienced such an upsurge of the workers’ unity and integrity. The Government and capitalists who own industries determined to suppress the movement but it continued and led to HAY MARKET incident on 3 & 4 th May and six workers were killed and wounded thousands of workers by the forces. As a mark of protest, a massive meeting was organised at Hay Market on 4th May, 1886. Two detectives rushed to the police, reported that a speaker used inflammatory language, inciting the police to march on the speakers’ wagon. As the police began to disperse the already thinning crowd due to very bad weather, a bomb was thrown on the police ranks. No one knows who threw the bomb, but speculations varied from blaming any one of the anarchists, to an agent provocateur working for the police. Enraged, the police fired into the crowd. The exact number of civilians killed or wounded was never determined, but an estimated seven or eight civilians died, and up to forty were wounded. One officer died immediately and another seven died in the following weeks. Later evidence indicated that only one of the police deaths could be attributed to the bomb and that all the other police fatalities had or could have had been due to their own indiscriminate gun fire. Aside from the bomb thrower, who was never identified, it was the police, not the anarchists, who perpetrated the violence. Yet, the struggling workers did not surrender themselves to the brutal oppression. The wounded workers tore their dress and dipped in the blood, hung high over their head and saluted with determination with slogans “LONG LIVE-MAY DAY; LONG LIVE WORKERS UNITY”
1888 – Federation of Labour again took a resolution to launch a movement in favour of 8 hours work on the very historic day of 1st May at St. Louis and continued their struggle. (further in depth analysis will be briefed subsequently).
In 1889, a meeting in Paris was held by the first congress of the Second International, following a proposal by Raymond Lavigne that called for international demonstrations on the 1890 anniversary of the Chicago protests. May Day was formally recognized as an annual event at the International’s second congress in 1891. Subsequently, the May Day riots of 1894 occurred. The International Socialist Congress, Amsterdam 1904 called on “all Social Democratic Party organisations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on the First of May for the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace.” The congress made it “mandatory upon the proletarian organisations of all countries to stop work on 1 May, wherever it is possible without injury to the workers.”
It is said that the following message was engraved on the Hay Market Monument
THE DAY WILL COME WHEN OUR SILENCE WILL BE MORE POWERFUL THAN THE VOICES YOU ARE THROTTLING TODAY.
In India, May Day was observed in the year 1923. Comrade Singarvellu Chettiar used a part of his daughter’s red saree as red flag and observed May-Day in Madras.
In the earlier part of the 20th century, the US government tried to curb the celebration and further wipe it from the public’s memory by establishing “Law and Order Day” on May 1.
Vaiko (Vai Gopalsamy), General Secretary of Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), appealed to the then Prime Minister V. P. Singh to declare 1 May as a national holiday, to which the PM heeded and from then on it became a national holiday to celebrate International Labour Day.
Truly, history has a lot to teach us about the roots of our radicalism. When we remember that people were shot so we could have the 8-hour day, if we acknowledge that homes with families in them were burned to the ground so we could have Saturday/Sunday as part of the weekend, when we recall 8-year old victims of industrial accidents who marched in the streets protesting working conditions and child labor only to be beaten down by the police and company thugs, we understand that our current condition cannot be taken for granted – people fought for the rights and dignities we enjoy today, and there is still a lot more to fight for. The sacrifices of so many people cannot be forgotten or we’ll end up fighting for those same gains all over again.
This is why we celebrate May Day.
HAPPY WORKERS DAY
HAPPY SHRAMIK DIWAS