May I provide labour?

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What do a pencil house, an ivory inferno, a tea garden and a feeble cow have to do with May Day, you ask? Read on to find out...

Here are some choice images to savour and reflect on from the week leading up to International Workers' Day on this day, May 1, 2016.

Why is Labour Day important? Why do we need a day to remind ourselves of the value of the working class? The value of those who expend themselves to create goods, services, commodities and values? Well, mainly because the political system that governs most of the world today is a proponent of capitalism, or some milder variant of it. And while it is a capitalist system — which thrives on the production of saleable commodities — that requires workers the most, it is also ironically the system under which the worker is inherently devalued the most. Treated like a rack of sheep, valued only for the wool he or she can produce.

^ Racka sheep are seen during celebrations of the start of the new grazing season in the Great Hungarian Plain in Hortobagy, Hungary, April 23, 2016.

For that is the inherent nature of capitalism. Capitalists have no qualms...

^ A miniature sculpture in the shape of a home, created by self-taught artist Jasenko Djordjevic on a graphite pencil, is seen in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina, on April 26, 2016.

... about exploiting the mainstay of their enterprise — the labourers. About shrinking the ground under their workers' feet and the roof over their heads till they constantly teeter on a precipice of insecurity and helplessness and the anxiety of being fated to have their sharp talents run ragged and blunted by overuse and undercompensation. After all, it is the production cycle...

^ Volkswagen cars are loaded in a delivery tower at the plant of the German carmaker in Wolfsburg, Germany, on April 28, 2016.

... that is paramount. The production cycle must be kept perpetually running, or society collapses. Question: is the world round because the planet is held together by a nuclear core and the law of gravity or because it is a spiralling conveyor belt of production?

^ Students pick tea leaves during an event to promote local eco-tourism at a plantation, in Chongqing, on April 30, 2016.

Labour is at the core of value-generation. Karl Marx believed that labour itself is a commodity. A component of capital that contributed to the production cycle. It is the combined labour power of all the individuals comprising a workforce that defines their worth for the employer. The price of labour. And in order for labour power to generate surplus value for the employer under capitalism, the price of labour must not exceed the cost of labour. That means, a capitalist will make a profit only if he pays his workers only as much as or less than what they require to hold body and soul together, for basic subsistence, for staying alive long enough to produce one more unit of the commodity.

But can you imagine a creature that looks like this...

^ An emaciated cow walks in an open field in Gelcha village, one of the drought-stricken areas of the Oromia region, in Ethiopia, on April 28, 2016.

... being capable of producing anything? Even dung?

If labour is a commodity, that implies it is something that can be sold, exchanged for an agreed-upon value, transacted. Not seized or stolen or exploited.

^ Around 105 tonnes of ivory and a tonne of rhino-horn confiscated from smugglers and poachers is aflame at the Nairobi National Park near Nairobi, Kenya, on April 30, 2016.

Because, that would be slavery. Which is abolished in civilised society. Because, a society enslaved loses purpose. And purpose lost is life lost, is productive capacity lost. It is essential, therefore, for an employer to ensure his worker retains his sense of purpose, his motivation for exercising his productive capacity. It is ultimately the leisure that an employer affords to his workforce...

^ Hot-air balloons get set to compete in a competition in Hefei, Anhui province, China, on April 27, 2016.

... that fortifies the sense of freedom felt by the individual worker and empowers him to expend the best of his potential in his work. In fact, the eight-hour day, proposed first in the early 1800s, was the core bone of contention in the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago that led to the formation of International Workers' Day.

A man is not a machine. And even a machine needs time away from work to cool off and restore itself.

^ A man jumps into Tolly's Nullah to cool off on a hot day in Kolkata on April 25, 2016.

Here's what Marx had to say about overexploitation of labour: “By extending the working day, therefore, capitalist production...not only produces a deterioration of human labour power by robbing it of its normal moral and physical conditions of development and activity, but also produces the premature exhaustion and death of this labour power itself”.

^ Across the Horn of Africa, millions have been hit by the severe El Nino-related drought. In Somaliland and its neighbouring Puntland region, 1.7 million people are in need of aid, according to the United Nations. In Somaliland itself, the most affected areas include the northwest Awdal region bordering Ethiopia.

And the death of labour power should surely doom the world to drought and desolation.

^ A man prostrates himself on a balcony of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City as other worshippers hold candles on the ground below during the Christian Orthodox Holy Fire ceremony on April 30, 2016.

But humans are social creatures. That means they recognise the merit in banding together to form cohesive units that amplify their individual voices into a collective chorus. And that is why, every man who prays for human upliftment will always have a sea of humanity holding candles below him, egging him on and buttressing his prayers with their own. Every trade unionist is, therefore, a humanist praying for the collective good of his brethren. Worshipping their cause. Celebrating their unity.

And when people come together in celebration...

^ Dancers perform a lion dance under a shower of sparks from molten iron during a folk-art performance in Pinglu county, Shanxi Province, China, on April 24, 2016.

.. sparks fly.

(All images used in this article are credited to Reuters)

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