May Day 2020 : International Day of Workers in Times of Global Pandemic

MAY DAY is the International Day of Workers. The inspiration came from the first big battle to regulate hours of work, to limit the working day to eight hours. May Day is still about the working day, especially in India where  the government is stretching it back to twelve hours in the middle of the Coronavirus lockdown. May Day is about paid holidays for all workers. And let us remember there are still millions of workers in India who are not even recognised as workers.

May Day 2020 is of course about those essential workers for whom there is no respite even in the middle of, or rather precisely because of, this pandemic-induced lockdown. The doctors and nurses to paramedical staff and community health workers, sanitation workers, transport workers and policemen and women, for all of whom these are times fraught with excessive workload and risk, and they are having to face this danger often without basic protective gears. Clapping for them will only mean adding insult to injury if their basic and immediate problems are not addressed and resolved.

May Day is about dignity of labour and safety of workplaces. Workers getting into sewers and routinely getting killed in the process are denied both. Large sections of workers in India continue to face daily humiliation and harassment, including sexual harassment and caste oppression, in their workplaces. May Day is about our continuing battle for recognition of our work, for safe workplaces, for a democratic and dignified environment for our work.

And this May Day as work from home is becoming the new buzz and new reality for many across the world, let us first of all remember those brothers and sisters who have access to neither. There are millions of migrant workers who are stranded away from home, who have no work or income, and have only insecurity and insult, hunger and misery as their constant companions. There are all those construction workers who have constructed the homes where people are advised to stay safe and isolated but who have no homes they can call their own.

Let us also think about the women and children who have always worked at and from home, but have always remained invisible and their contributions have never been recognised. Let us also think about the blurring of boundaries between home and workplace for the big contingent of the workforce in the IT sector, for whom this seamless transition means a massive spillover of stress. May Day is about this entire spectrum of workers, from those who have always been confined to the four walls of home to all who are now being burdened with all the 'benefits' of working from home.



May Day 2020 is about the impending recession that is staring us in the face. How will the economy recover from this devastating shock and disruption? And who will bear the cost of this huge loss? Already, millions have lost their jobs and livelihood. Wages are being cut, dearness allowances are being frozen, most industries are talking of massive retrenchments even as prices of essential commodities have begun to soar. The burden of the pandemic and this impending recession cannot be transferred to the already impoverished and weakened working people. May Day 2020 is about demanding an immediate enforcement of Covid wealth tax to raise necessary funds for rebuilding the economy and providing relief to the people.

It is the workers who lie at the centre of production. The resources provided by nature are transformed through human labour into goods and services for our ever expanding consumption needs. It is this produce which has got accumulated as mountains of wealth in the hands of a tiny minority, and is being used as a weapon to wage a war on the working people. May Day 2020 is about rethinking the whole system of production, acquisition and distribution of wealth. We have had enough of austerity for the masses and prosperity for the few, privatisation of profit and nationalisation of loss, private accumulation and corporate control over socialised production. Covid 2019 is a wake up call to protect nature and defend the people from the clutches of corporate greed and plunder and create a new, more just world.

Ambedkar had famously said that caste is not about division of labour, it is division of labourers. May Day is about the unity of labourers. It is about worldwide unity of workers and oppressed peoples. Worldwide, it is the working people who have borne the biggest brunt of the Covid 2019 pandemic thanks to the systematic commercialisation and destruction of the public health system in most countries and the utterly callous and cruel response of most governments towards tackling the pandemic. Yet, governments are busy abdicating their responsibilities and blaming and dividing the workers in the wake of the pandemic. Challenging this divisive agenda has never been more urgent than today.

Today when the mismatch between global capitalism and human survival has become so explosively glaring, another world, a new and better world, has become absolutely essential and urgent. We truly have a whole new world to win and build. The people united will never be defeated.

Liberation Archive