May Day symbolises the struggle of the working people for their rights. It is a day of working people’s solidarity. It was Marx and Engels, the leaders of the workers’ movement, who issued the clarion call “Workers of the world unite!” which has reverberated throughout the globe ever since.
Observance of the Day will no doubt be marred by the global economic recession that has lain off millions of jobs around the world over. Bangladesh too, like other Asian countries, is gradually beginning to feel the effects of the financial meltdown though there is no undue panic and job loss is not on the scale seen in many countries.
In any event, all recent May Day exercises were relatively quiet affairs, which begs the question whether the International Workers’ Day is gradually losing its relevance and sting in this country.
Even the slogans have changed from those of the past, which demonised the capitalist economy and exploitation. Today, the entire script has a political flavour with workers’ rights and demands taking a back seat.
This is because the trade union movement in the country has become largely dormant or even impotent. It has lost its clout in collective bargaining and is merely a shadow of its past. The power of the trade unions today has largely been diluted by power politics, which is laying down the agenda.
As a result, giant inroads are being made by politics movement into the trade union bastions, upstaging the workers’ solidarity and fragmenting the working class. Unlike in the past, where collective decisions were taken with the trade unions at the forefront, today we see workers divided on political party lines, which defeats the aim of the labour movement. The ultimate beneficiaries are the trade unions leaders who know on which side their bread is buttered.
It is time that the working class resolves to band together to stand on their own instead of subordinating their rights to the political movement. This is needed today because political parties have hijacked what is essentially an event of the working class to spew venom at their opponents. True, given the political culture of this country where politics has invaded every sphere of activity and endeavour, it would asking too much for a high octane event as a May Day to be divorced from party politics.
This is more so since today all trade unions are appendages of political parties who make use of this powerful arm of the working class to further their ends. How many of these trade unions could honestly claim to be behind the struggle of the working class who are made pawns of ambitious politicians? Gone are the days when resolutions read on May Day platforms were implemented. Today, these resolutions are mere asides to the grand political shows put up by political parties with orators breathing fire and brimstone and promising the world to the working class.
May Day has also lost its orientation in other ways. Today, we see all around us a lack of a work ethic where workers of state institutions do the least amount of work while making unfair demands. One has only to walk into any state institution to observe this lethargy on the part of the workers.
While labour laws do provide adequate protection to the interests of the workers at their workplace, they have bypassed the issue of labour productivity, an important factor in terms of efficiency and profitability of any business and production enterprise. But the fact remains that low level of labour productivity is hurting most industries.
This is an area where the government can play an important role. It should arrange proper training and education for the workers free of cost to help raise their productivity and skills. An educated and skilled labour force is a long-term asset for any country. Only through joint-efforts of the government, the entrepreneurs and the workers can such an asset be built up, having wider and positive impact on the economy for the greater good.
The writer is National Tourism Worker.
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