A May Day with A Difference


The month of May travels me to the path of nostalgia as because I got married on a May day. I, along with my bridal party had to travel on a long bumpy road to wed my fiancé on the day of the ceremony. That’s a sweet recollection for me. And, May is also the month of May Day- International Workers’ Day- marks the 1886 uprising of workers at Hay Market in Chicago for their legitimate rights, including eight-hour working day. Several workers were killed in police firing on the day.

On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history. In Chicago, the epicenter for the 8-hour day agitators, 40,000 went out on strike with the anarchists in the forefront of the public’s eye.

The day bears different tastes across the universe, too.

In this piece, I wish to focus it as the International Workers Day. The day is an official holiday in 66 countries and unofficially celebrated in many more, but ironically it is rarely recognized in the country where it began, the United States of America.

In Bangladesh, people of all classes enjoy the day as a holiday. Labour organisations of the country chalk out programmes across the country in observance of the day. But this time, May Day brings no festivity in Bangladesh and other parts of the cosmos as well due to pandemic COVID- 19. The catastrophic disease remind us the days of the 19th century, while at the height of the Industrial Revolution, thousands of men, women and children were dying every year from poor working conditions and long hours. The pandemic is not only claiming lives, but also jobs of millions.

Bangladesh’s popular English daily New Age reported -Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said that COVID-19 badly affected the sector as western buyers have cancelled $3.18 billion work order due to the pandemic and this would have a direct bearing on the jobs of 2.28 million workers out of 40 million.

It stated – senior vice-president of the RMG sector apex body Faisal Samad explained that the 2.28 million workers might lose their jobs if the work orders were not reinstated, though he did not disclose how many workers had already been fired and the extent of damage the sector envisaged.

‘We cannot say for sure how badly the industry will be affected, at least not until July-August,’ he said.

Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies, however, in a presentation quoting research papers claimed that one million RMG workers have already lost their jobs, the newspaper mentioned.

Amid such cruel reality Bangladesh is observing the historic May Day, also called international workers’ day, today focused on the rights of the workers and the appreciation they deserve for their hard work,’ New Age added.

In this situation, Bangladesh’s working people are facing manifold cruelties.

Several left leaning parties including Trade Union Kendra, Jatiya Sramik Federation, Jatiya Ganatantrik Sramik Federation, Samajtantrik Sramik Front and Bangladesh Sramik Karmachari Federation formed an online human chain in Jashore on Friday marking the day urging the government and industrialists to find ways to overcome the hard days to come.

The human chain urged the owners of industries across the country not to kick off workers and ensuring payments workers for six months.

They also told that owners and the government should bear the consequences for opening of garment factories amid COVID -19 pandemic, stated a press release.

Will the government and the industrialists hear the hue and cry of general people? If not, the Trade Union Sangha called upon people of all classes to be united to fight it themselves.

Saifur Rahman Saif is a Bangladeshi journalist. He works at New Age, a popular newspaper. He contributed a story in Freelance Success Stories published simultaneously from the USA and Canada. He can be reached at [email protected]




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