May Day blues | Daily News

May Day blues

For once in over three decades Colombo would be free from the revelry that passes off for May Day, the so-called day dedicated to the working class, where those who grind out an existence the hard way by their sweat and toil during the rest of the year get an opportunity to let their hair down and give vent to their frustrations and grievances and rant and rave against their exploitation by the capitalist class.

The raging Coronavirus pandemic had thrown a damper on this year's May Day celebrations in the City and the outstations with the Government imposing a ban on public gatherings. The last occasion a May Day was banned was in 1987 when President J. R. Jayewardene clamped down on all Workers’ Day rallies in the teeth of JVP inspired violence. This time though May Day cancellation was occasioned not by terrorist guns but the wrath of nature in the form of a deadly pandemic that is exacting heavy death toll round the world.

Still the die-hard old left which had always been in the vanguard of May Day rallies in the past will commemorate Workers Day Online and so will both camps of the Rathu Sahodharayas, while the May Day celebration of the UNP will be confined to Party Headquarters Sirikotha with a 100-member attendance.

Of course, May Day in Sri Lanka would always bring to memory the tragic death of former President Premadasa by a LTTE suicide bomber - the 28th anniversary of which falls today. At the time of the tragedy, the late President was facing an acute political crisis with a section of his Cabinet rebelling against him threatening his Presidency. May Day provided him with a giant platform to neutralize his opponents within his Government and wrest the initiative. It was purely a political show, as all May Days before and after were indeed political shows. The workers’ interests and their grievances were furthest from the agenda on that fateful May Day in 1993.

Needless to say, May Day which is essentially dedicated to the workers and is an event to celebrate the dignity of labour has today turned into an abomination with anything but the workers’ rights and the grievances articulated on this day. Today's May Days are exercises in demonstrating the political strengths of the Government in power and the Opposition, their successes depending on the sizes of the crowds each group could muster. May Days have become the complete antithesis of its raison d'être, that of protecting the workers’ rights and asserting their demands.

Instead it has become a day for abuse of State property which rightfully belongs to the workers themselves and a day for bacchanal orgies. Very little is spoken about the workers, their struggles or sacrifices on May Day stages with only gung ho claims of politicians and attacks on their rivals dominating the agenda. True, a few resolutions are glibly read out on May Day stages as token concessions to the working class, only for these to be consigned to the forgotten things of limbo in no time.

Workers themselves are responsible for this state of affairs having allowed politicians to hijack the party that is solely theirs and reduce themselves to the level of palanquin bearers of politicians. Of course this is to be expected with the Trade Unions being highly politicized and the workers interests and rights blurred by party politics. In other words, political loyalty has taken precedence over workers’ interests and rights, reducing May Day to a forum for political grandstanding with the workers mere pawns in the hands of politicians to further their interests. It is time that workers started asserting themselves by depoliticizing the labour movement as a whole. In no other country is May Day celebrated by workers with politicians on stage. Nor have the workers’ interests being allowed to be bartered for political considerations. Hopefully this-non event May Day would make Trade Unions representing the working class reflect on where they have gone wrong and begin asserting their rights on their own without leaning on political crutches for survival.

They should strive to make May Day a more meaningful event that would reflect the power of the working class and a powerful forum to articulate the grievances of the toiling masses. The workers too should provide their unstinted contribution towards the country's development and progress through sheer hard work. It is only then that they could assert their rights without guilt or misgivings. Today workers in Government controlled Trade Unions hardly pull their weight, with protection guaranteed as to their job security. Workers perform as little as they could and get away secure in the thought that they have the protection of politicians. It is time that the firm hold of political parties over Trade Unions is broken and workers made free to exercise their power and assert themselves on their own volition. If not May Day would be bereft of its true meaning, making it a platform for dog fights between political parties, with the workers left in the lurch.