Philosopher Karl Marx said ‘Workers of the World Unite, You have nothing to lose but your chains’. Centuries have passed ever since. Workers’ Movements has witnessed many developments since then. However, the workers continue to fight for their rights.
Many renowned economists have continued to warn that inequalities are increasing in the capitalist mode of development. Workers of the 21st century are bearing the brunt of inequalities and continue to suffer immensely. The conditions of the workers who are the creators of wealth have worsened during the pandemic.
Historically, Labour Day was initiated to remember the workers who were martyred in the massacre that took place at the ‘HayMarket Square’ in Chicago, America massacre on 4th May 1886. 11 workers died at the rally that demanded Eight-hour work and equality in wages after it turned violent after clashes with the police. It’s on this backdrop that Labour day is celebrated on 1st May.
‘The Communist Manifesto’ authored by Karl Marx and Engels in 1848 had a great influence on workers. Eversince, it continues to awaken the workers about Labour Rights. The Socialist and the Labour parties united to form ‘The Second International’. It was this organization that declared May 1st as International Workers’ Day and 8th March as International Women’s Day.
In India, International Labour Day was first celebrated on 1st May 1923 after the establishment of the Hindustan Labour Kisan Party. These meetings were held at the Triplicane Beach opposite the Madras High Court of the Madras Presidency which was ruled by the British. Backward Classes’ Rights and Self-Respect Movement activist Singaravelu Chettiar led these meetings. It was in this meeting that a resolution was passed demanding that the Government must declare Workers’ Day as a National Holiday.
Amidst the Covid pandemic, yet another Workers’ Day is here. The Prime Minister last year
Narendra Modi-led BJP Government imposed lockdown without any forethought led to an unprecedented mass exodus of workers. Many workers died on the streets. Hunger squeezed the lives out of workers.
GauriLankeshNews.com spoke to labourers and their union leaders in various sectors
“Yet another lockdown of 15 days has been announced in the state. The government just announces lockdown and does nothing. It does not think about the economic situation of the workers nor about the means of their meals. The government has said that all the factories apart from the government will remain open. But public transport is not available. How will workers go to their jobs? There are seven lakh garment workers in Bangalore alone. What should they do for their meals? ” questioned K Basavaraj, Secretary of CITU, a major trade union.
“Everyone in India is struggling to find their meals while India’s wealthiest man Ambani’s wealth has increased. The centuries-long struggle of the workers earned them the eight-hour workday right. The government in the name of Corona has taken this right away and this is one of the reason for the growing wealth of the rich ” said K Basavaraj.
The government claims that this move is to accelerate the economy having suffered setbacks from Corona. But there exist huge probabilities that workers’ issues get aggravated during this lockdown. Workers still haven’t recovered from the hits they suffered during the last lockdown itself. But of the richest class of the country including Ambani’s wealth has increased said the reports. By this, it’s not difficult to understand that the capitalist economy has curtailed the rights of the workers to enrich the wealth of a handful of people.
Not just that, in almost all factories, permanent workers are replaced by contract employees to work for lesser wages. In this model, workers are exploited as long as they work and then are thrown out stating that they are not efficient enough without serving any notices. In this model, no facilities are provided for are granted for workers. Companies only care about their profits. Governments care only about such affluent companies and stand with them. Toyota Workers issue that caught the attention of the country recently is an apt example for the same.
“I’m aged 35, it’s been 13 years that I joined Toyota. Here works must be done on the count of seconds. They deduct wages if you return a little late from urination. As a result of the company exploiting my labour for thirteen years my spine is eroded. Now, they make me vulnerable even for minor mistakes.
Now the company is pressurizing me to retire voluntarily. The company is in an urgency to ensure that it relives all permanent employees and hire employees on a contract basis in a few years” said a worker who wished to remain anonymous.
When the workers questioned the Toyotal Kirloskar administration, the company took to lockout stating that workers are on strike. The workers who protested for almost 3-4 months against such anti-labour stances had a small victory against the company too. But the company has not taken 75 labourers who led the protests. They are still protesting outside the company. Apple IPhone manufacturing company Wistron exploiting its labourers was the reason behind the recent clashes. Be it in the case of Toyota or Wistron, the Government standing with the company instead of the labourers aggravated the issues.
“When the Workers’ Movement was at its peak, several labour laws came in. When the labour class experienced backfoot in political sphere, the capitalists have come into power and bring in anti-labour policies. In the present context, labour class’s politics has weakened across the world. But, point of consolation is that this is not going to be the case forever. Labour movement spanning over a century was the reason behind the introduction of the labour laws. If these laws are taken back now, these movements would re-emerge which would create a new condition. Its a continuous struggle. While the labour movement might experience backfooting, it will not lose” says AICCTU Secretary Vijay Bhaskar.
“Hence, even after 133 years, Mayday (Workers’ Day) becomes important. Presently, in the IT Sector, eight-hour work is non-existant. These companies are bringing-inlaws that suits their interests by pressuring the governments. But now, even within the IT sector, labour organizations have started. This is how labour movements have grown historically as well. In the beginning, industries become powerful, then the workers will unite to protest” says Vijay Bhaskar.
Labour organizations and movements have stood in solidarity with the farmers movement too. The government isn’t listening to the issue of the workers during the Covid crisis. Due to the bad policies of the government, workers are struggling in the time of the pandemic. in general, workers of all the sectors are unhappy and frustrated. In the labour strike that was called on 26th November last year, nearly 20 crore workers had participated. The year before it, only 12 crore workers had participated. This means that the workers are more agitated with the system and the labour movements are still alive.
Since workers are bearing the first brunt of the governmental policies during the pandemic, the need is for all of us to remember the struggles of labour movements. As Karl Marx said, when the workers unite, they have nothing to lose but their chains.
The article was originally published in our weekly magazine in Kannada- Nyayapatha. Translated into English by Shashank SR