“It must be celebrated, as workers are backbone of industries”

How relevant is May Day in these changing times and is it celebrated with the same vigour by the working class as in the past?

From a boisterous origin of spring time celebrations in the western countries, May Day has evolved over the centuries to a get a pro-worker identity, as it rightly coincides with International Workers’ Day. Wikipedia says May Day derived from the French expression venez m’aider meaning “come, help me.” On May 1, workers used to take out rallies and trade union leaders hoist flags and address public meetings.

However, in a changed scenario in which the worker-centric industrial sector has lost its moorings to profit-oriented corporate culture, a question has cropped up on whether there is need for such a celebration to uphold workers’ rights.

S.V. Ramachandran, a supervisor in a granite quarry in Keelavalavu near Melur, wonders: “In these times of large-scale unemployment and factory lay-offs, do we need to celebrate May Day? Its relevance was lost the day the government opened the floodgates to multi-national companies (MNC).”

According to workers at a unit in K. Pudur Industrial Estate: “We don’t see a level-playing field anymore. While MNCs are able to run their units without interruptions, units in industrial estates suffer long durations of power cuts. Infrastructure is poor at industrial estates. Raw materials do not arrive in time. Banks charge exorbitant rates for payment defaults. All these factors have resulted in many firms going bust.”

These workers foresee a bleak future for them.

Transition stage

K.S. Govindarajan of Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) says: “In the absence of “unhealthy” trends in the industrial sector, the once-strong labour unions have gradually faded away from the scene. This is a transition stage for trade unions. While there is economic development all around, working class has been hard hit by the anti-labour policies of successive governments.”

“Sumangali Scheme is a blot on industries. The nonchalant attitude of the governments in not amending labour laws has deprived the workers of their rights. What is the use in having laws written as early as 1947? Long after the British left, we still follow their laws. Many are outdated or do not bring solutions to the current problems. The need of the hour is to have laws in tune with the modern times. A government with a political will alone will be able to pursue this,” he says.

Still working

However, Mr. Govindarajan says, the INTUC, with a sizable representation of workers from industries, has been creating awareness of labour laws among workers in the unorganised sector. “Under the Mahalir Thittam, we have 12,000 women as members who are employed in small units making pappads and stoves, stainless steel lathes, etc. We create an awareness among them of their rights in the workplace.”

“Recruitment pattern has changed. Many industries prefer to employ workers on contract basis. Here again, issues such as festival bonus and paid wages on the nine national holidays crop up. The trade unions play a pivotal role in asking the right questions to set things right,” he says.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) MLA R. Annadurai says unlike Coimbatore or Chennai, there are not many large-scale industries in Madurai. “However, the trade unions fight for the rights of workers in the unorganised sector here. Many worker-friendly initiatives are possible only through unions. May Day must be celebrated as the working class is the backbone of any industry, be it big or small, organised or unorganised,” he says.

“They can lean on us”

“When many industries are reeling under losses, it is all the more important for the unions to be vibrant and intact as the working class can lean on us for its survival,” he says, and calls for workers to celebrate May Day with vigour.

He exudes hope that a new government at the Centre, with Left support, can change the industrial scene for the better.

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