Workers of all lands- Unite, is the final line of The Communist Manifesto that is also inscribed in bold letters on the tombstone of Karl Marx, one of the world’s greatest thinkers who wrote extensively against the exploitation of industrial workers by capitalists till his death in 1883.
In the same spirit workers and farmers unite every first of this month to sing in chorus that it is May Day! May Day!
May Day is observed around the world in international solidarity with countless ordinary workers and in celebration of the eight hour work day, world peace and socialist ideas.
Rosa Luxemburg, Marxist theorist and German of Polish Jewish descent stressed the revolutionary character of May Day on the eve of the break of World War I. She saw the war coming and raised her voice in favour of international action against all wars waged by money bags while workers are left to starve.
It was decided to observe first May as Labour Day after leaders of revolutionary proletarian movements of many lands met in Paris to commemorate 100 years of the French Revolution on 14 July, 1889.
The idea was to form an international organisation inspired by the teachings of Karl Marx who had died six years earlier.
Keeping in mind the work already done by Americans, the Paris Congress adopted the following resolution:
The Congress decides to organize a great international demonstration, so that in all countries and in all cities on one appointed day the toiling masses shall demand of the state authorities the legal reduction of the working day to eight hours, as well as the carrying out of other decisions of the Paris Congress. Since a similar demonstration has already been decided upon for May 1, 1890, by the American Federation of Labor at its Convention in St. Louis, December, 1888, this day is accepted for the international demonstration. The workers of the various countries must organize this demonstration according to conditions prevailing in each country.
Storming the Bastille
It may be recalled that it was on the morning of 14 July in 1789 that angry, ordinary people had stormed the medieval fortress of Bastille also representative of royal authority in the heart of Paris. This is an incident that marked the decline of powerful monarchies and the Church around the world.
The first May Day celebration in India was organised in Madras by the Labour Kisan Party in 1923. The local paper The Hindu had reported:
The Labour Kisan party has introduced May Day celebrations in Chennai. Comrade Singaravelar presided over the meeting. A resolution was passed stating that the government should declare May Day as a holiday. The president of the party explained the non-violent principles of the party. There was a request for financial aid. It was emphasized that workers of the world must unite to achieve independence.
Eight hour work day
The idea of a holiday in celebration of the common man and as a means to attain the eight-hour day was first born in Australia. The first celebration had such a strong effect on the masses of Australia that it was decided to repeat the celebration every year to give the workers greater courage and faith in their own strength.
Similar activities led to the creation of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 1919, as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, to reflect the belief that universal and lasting peace can be accomplished only if it is based on social justice.
Despite centuries of struggle, unemployment remains the greatest challenge in a world where the workforce continues to grow at around 40 million per year. Due to the international financial crisis, 30 million have been added to the unemployed and nearly 40 million more have stopped looking for employment.
In 2011, 74.8 million youth between the age of 15 years and 24 years were unemployed, an increase of more than 4 million since 2007.
Across the world, women continue to suffer discrimination in labour markets, particularly in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia where there is a 50 percentage point difference between men and women. Once in the labour market, women suffer from more precarious work contracts as well as lower pay.
Most people rely on earnings from work as their main source of income. Latest estimates by the ILO suggest that worldwide just under half a billion working age adults are supporting households that survive on less than a US$1.25 a day.
As documented in ILO reports, extreme poverty at the $1.25 level among workers has declined significantly, falling from nearly 49 per cent of all workers in developing countries in 1991 to approximately 17 per cent in 2011. There has been less progress in reducing moderate working poverty, with 18 per cent of workers in developing economies classified as moderately poor in 2011, a reduction of less than two percentage points over the last two decades.
There is a large increase in the share of workers in developing regions classified as near poor, rising from 14.8 per cent in 1991 to 26.1 per cent of all workers in developing regions in 2011. Accordingly, in 2011, more than six out of 10 workers in the developing world are either poor or near poor. Despite rapid economic development that has characterised many developing regions, poverty is either a stark reality or a real threat for the majority of workers in the developing world and by 2015 the global jobs gap is feared to be still larger.