Wednesday, May 29, 2024

May Day 2023: India celebrates centenary of International Workers’ Day

May Day 2023 marks the centenary of its first commemoration in India, which took place on May 1, 1923 in Madras, thanks to the efforts of M Singaravelu Chettiar, a prominent figure in Indian history and early communist who was associated with the anti-caste movement.

Singaravelu drew inspiration from the many May Day celebrations that were taking place around the world and sought to connect the struggles of Indian workers with the global movement against exploitation and dehumanization of labor. The Chicago workers’ rally in May 1886 sparked a momentum that eventually made its way to India in 1923, and its consequences continue to be felt around the world to this day.

Each year on May 1, people across the globe take to the streets to commemorate International Workers’ Day, or May Day.

May Day is an official holiday in many countries and is of particular significance to advocates of workers’ rights. The day serves as a commemoration of past labor movements and their struggles against various forms of workers’ rights violations, such as long workdays and weeks, poor working conditions, and the exploitation of child labor.

Why is International Workers’ Day on May 1?

During the late 19th century, socialist, communist, and trade unionist groups designated May 1 as International Workers’ Day, which was chosen to symbolically honor the Haymarket affair that occurred in Chicago, United States in 1886.

The US working class had been fighting for an eight-hour workday for years, and in October 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labour Unions of the United States and Canada announced that May 1, 1886, would be the first day to implement the new workday policy.

On May 1, 1886, around 300,000 to 500,000 US workers went on strike in various cities and towns across the country, with an estimated 40,000 people striking and protesting in Chicago, the epicenter of the struggle. The strike was peaceful until May 3 when striking workers in Chicago confronted strikebreakers, leading to police opening fire and killing two workers.

On May 4, a bomb was thrown at police, killing seven officers and at least four civilians. Eight anarchists were arrested, tried, and convicted of conspiracy, with seven sentenced to death, and one to 15 years in prison.

The Haymarket affair inspired the Second International, the international organization for workers and socialists, to declare May 1 as International Workers’ Day in 1889.

The eight-hour workday was not officially recognized in the US until it became law in 1916, after years of strikes, protests, and demonstrations in support of the policy.

The Haymarket Martyrs, including those who died and the convicted anarchists, are widely regarded by the left as symbols of workers’ struggle and sacrifice.

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