We, as a people, are fond of referring to our glorious and revolutionary history; and yet, a crucial part of that revolutionary history, that of our labour movement(s), remains neglected, at least in mainstream discourses. This special May Day issue is an attempt, albeit a modest one, to highlight some of these omissions.
The issue is divided into two parts: the first part explores the long tradition of organising in East Bengal (and what is now Bangladesh), through the experiences of veteran leftist leaders who played an instrumental role in shaping the labour movement as well the anti-colonial and national movements in the region. The second part attempts to highlight how the hopes of a radical reordering of society fell through the cracks in independent Bangladesh, with labour rights taking a backseat in the face of wholesale privatisation of state-owned industries, trade liberalisation and export-oriented development during successive regimes. The trade union movement, once the mainstay of the left, also weakened, not least due to attempts, by both state and non-state actors, to create a docile workforce, who must do, but never question.
The dream of a socialist state, in which workers are given their due, becomes even more distant, with each passing decade.
We look back at the past, and evaluate the present, with the hopes that we may dream again of a better, more egalitarian future.
Sushmita S Preetha