Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 08 May 2023

May Day is celebrated

Source: By The Indian Express

1 May is marked as May Day also referred to as International Workers’ Day and Labour Day in different countries across the world. The Day commemorates the contributions of workers and the labour movement.

Although observed as an ancient northern hemisphere spring festival initially, 1 May became associated with the labour movement in the late 19th century, after trade unions and socialist groups decided to designate it as a day in support of the working class people.

The decision was taken in memory of Chicago’s Haymarket Affair, which took place on 4 May 1886, when a violent clash broke out between the police and labour protestors. The incident happened after a bomb went off at Haymarket Square in Chicago, where police had arrived to break a peaceful rally. Ultimately, seven police officers were killed and 60 others got injured before the violence ended. It’s estimated that four to eight civilians died and 30 to 40 were wounded.

Many of the protestors, who were demonstrating against workers’ rights violations, straining work hours, poor working conditions, low wages and child labour, were arrested and served terms of life imprisonment, death sentences, etc., and those who died were hailed as “Haymarket Martyrs”. The Haymarket Affair had a lasting effect on the workers’ movement and helped push forward the demands for better working conditions across the world.

The US formally recognised Labor Day as a federal holiday in 1894, and it continues to be celebrated every year on the first Monday of September. Soon, Canada also followed suit. However, it took another 22 years and countless protests for America to recognise eight-hour work timings.

Although the US and Canada observed the first Monday of September as Labor Day, others decided to mark the occasion on a different date. In 1889, The Second International, an organisation of socialist and labour parties, announced that 1 May would be marked as International Workers’ Day from then on.

Five years later, the International Socialist Congress in Amsterdam 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,” and 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.”

After the Russian Revolution in 1917, the celebration was embraced by the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc nations during the Cold War– becoming a national holiday in many of them. Parades were a part of the celebration– the one at Moscow’s Red Square was attended by top Communists leaders and displayed Soviet military might.

In India, May Day was first celebrated on 1 May 1923, after the Labour Kisan Party of Hindustan was initiated and Comrade Singaravelar (Singaravelu Chettiar) helmed the celebrations. In two meetings — one at Triplicane Beach and the second at the beach opposite Madras High Court — the Comrade, known for being one of the leaders of Self Respect movement in the Madras Presidency and for his fight for the rights of backward classes, passed a resolution stating the government should allow everybody a national holiday on Labour Day.