Co-Written by Waseem Ahmad Bhat  & Adil Qayoom Mallah

may day kashmir

Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains.

                                                                                                                               Karl Marx


For more than 130 years, May Day has symbolized the common struggles of the workers around the globe.  For all these years and every passing day the voices of the proletariat have become stronger and louder. Wherever busy folk are drudging under the yolk of capitalism, the organized working men and women will demonstrate on May Day for the idea of their social emancipation.

The history of the world holiday on the first May – May Day or International Workers’ Day, is held in commemoration of four anarchists executed for struggling for an 8 hour working day. In 1887, four Chicago anarchists were executed; a fifth cheated the hangman by killing himself in prison. Three more were to spend six years in prison until pardoned by Governor Altgeld who said the trail that convicted them was characterized by, “hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge”. The state had in the words of the prosecution put, “Anarchy on trail” and hoped their deaths would also be the death of the anarchist idea.  The anarchists were trade union organizers and May Day became an international workers’ day to remember their sacrifices. They were framed on false charges of throwing a bomb at police breaking up a demonstration in Chicago. This was part of a strike demanding an 8- hour day involving 400,000 workers in Chicago that started on May 1, 1886. In 1889, the first congress of the Second International, meeting in Paris for the centennial of the French Revolution and the Exposition Universelle, following a proposal by Raymond Lavigne, called for international demonstrations on the 1890 anniversary of the Chicago protests. May Day was formally recognized as an annual event at the International’s second congress in 1891.

Current Crisis

Eleanor Marx, in her maiden May Day speech in Hyde Park on 4th May 1890 said that,” we have not come to do the work of the political parties, but we have come here in the cause of labour, in its own defense, to demand its own rights. I can remember when we came in handfuls of a few dozens to Hyde Park to demand an Eight hours Bill, but the dozens have grown to hundreds and hundreds to thousands, until we have this magnificent demonstration that fills the park today”.  We are again confronting an entire system, now in a state of more severe crisis than that which faced the authors of the May Day Manifesto in 1967.

As we go out on this May Day, and look at our world, we see the familiar priorities of power and money set over against people. At a time in which world boasts about breathtaking advances in science, technology, industry and wealth accumulation- mass poverty and obscene inequality are the terrible scourges of our times. The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. What is more pressing is that poverty and inequality is not natural, it is man-made and can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings, and overcoming poverty is not an act of charity, it is an act of justice. It is the protection of a universal fundamental right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom and no future for the millions who are reeling under its burden.

The Indian Scenario

The immediate paradoxes are startling. We have thousands of people without homes, our schools are overcrowded and our health services are breaking under prolonged strain. The unemployment levels have touched unprecedented heights and the glaring inequalities are adding fuel to the burning fire. I remember renowned economist Thomas Piketty’s January 2016 lecture to a well acquainted audience at Jawaharlal Nehru University, where he drew people’s attention towards growing inequalities in India. He warned that if this problem is not solved by democracy, the consequences may be disastrous. Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze in their book  “An Uncertain Glory- India and its Contradictions”, claimed that the bigger concern for India today should be the continuing deep disparities in society that are only widening with every percentage point growth in GDP. The authors further say that, India’s democracy has failed to rise to the challenges the country faces in the economic and social fields and worse it has been compromised by the extent and form of social inequality whether it is education, health care, female literacy, sanitation or nutrition- India fares only marginally better than countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

In India, Labour Day Is a public holiday held on every 1 May. The holiday is tied to labour movements for communist and socialist political parties. The first May Day celebrated in India was organized in Madras (now Chennai) by the Labour Kisan party of Hindustan on 1 may 1923 under the leadership of comrade Singaravelu Chettiar. It was also the first occasion that the red flag, an emblem of the labour class was raised in India. This marks the beginning of May Day in India which now is being celebrated across the whole country.

In Kashmir also, the May Day is being celebrated on 1 May. Last year we had a golden opportunity to participate in May Day celebrations organized by Centre of trade unions (CITU) in collaboration with state CPI (M). The chief guest of this get together was M.Y. Tarigami. It was attended by hundreds of workers like ASHA workers, Anganwadi workers, laborers, daily wagers etc. who had come from different parts of the erstwhile state to share their experience. A resolution was also passed by the party that every year May Day and the Zail Dagger martyrs will be commemorated together. As their sacrifices laid the foundation for the emancipation of the working class in this part of the world. The slogan which was raised by none other than the Comrade M.Y.Tarigami was “DUNIYA BAR K MEHNAT KASHO EK HO JOA EK HO JAO”


Overcoming poverty and inequality will not be possible without challenging patriarchy, capitalism and the current model of development, which puts profits before public goods, human security and welfare. The protection of people is a universal obligation of all states and international democratic institutions, however growing militarism and rearmament reduces political space and public accountability of states, diverts development financing and ultimately renders lasting peace unrealizable

Truly, history has a lot to teach us about the roots of our radicalism. We understand that our current conditions cannot be taken for granted – people fought for the rights and dignities we enjoy today and there is still a lot more to fight for. The sacrifices of so many people cannot be forgotten or we will end up fighting for those same gains all over again. This is why we celebrate May Day.

There won’t be better line to end this write up than the one inscribed on the Haymarket Monument,

“The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today”.

The authors are research fellows at the Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir




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