May Day now and then | Sunday Observer

May Day now and then

2 May, 2021

The May Day is a metaphor for International Workers’ Day, a day of celebration of the working class.

The roots of this `Day’ run and lies through history dating back over one-and-a-half centuries.

This could be traced the second part of the 19th century when there were revolutions, and organisations which rallied industrial workers to voice their plight. The main demand was to reduce the work time from 12-15 hours a day to eight hours.

The crop failure in Europe in the 1840s led to widespread anti-feudal upheavals called `The Revolutions of 1848’.

Along with this, `The Communist Manifesto’ written by Karl Marx and Engles in 1848 made a great impact on workers across various countries, especially England, France, Germany and the USA which were feeling the heat of the industrialisation.

As a result, the International Workingmen’s Association was born as an umbrella association for all Socialist and Communist organisations at a workers’ congregation in London in 1864.

Ideological rift

But over an ideological rift, it was dissolved in 1876. The second International group emerged as a united outfit of Socialist and Labor parties in 1889. It was this organisation that declared May 1 as International Workers’ Day and March eight as International Women’s Day.

However, historically, the Haymarket Affair took place three years prior to the declaration, and has been considered as the main issue or the event that provoked the authorities to accept the demands of the workers.

On May 4 in 1886, when the laborers assembled at the Haymarket Square in Chicago in USA, and took out a rally for an eight-hour work day, a bomb attack was mounted on them by some unknown forces.

Apart from that, 11 person lost their lives due to police firing and the rally ended in a riot.

Since then May Day has been celebrated all over the world.

The first May Day of Sri Lanka was held with the initiated guidance of E. A. Gunasinghe, the Father of the Sri Lankan Workers’ Union in 1927, even before Independence.

Following this, the first May Day rally was held in 1933. Starting from the Prise Park and treading a few miles on the Colombo roads it ended at the Galle Face promenade.

The May Day became a Government holiday in Sri Lanka in 1956; under the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) government of Premier S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike.

The SLFP and the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) were the two parties that initiated to celebrate the May Day from its inception.

The United National Party (UNP) started following them thereafter.

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna or (People’s Liberation Front) founded by Rohana Wijeweera on May four in 1965, and other Socialist - Communist parties, along with trade unions and community organisations joined later on.In this celebration the participants wore the particular colour of their respective political party and paraded the streets with placards and flags shouting out slogans in a bid to pass the messages of their party.

The party leaders would walk in the front row disregarding their personal safety. Musical bands – drums and trumpets played tunes of famous patriarchal songs or popular Baila.

The destination for every rally is a huge ground leased from the Municipal Council in which the supporters gather to hear the political speeches of their favourite leaders.

Many such rallies and gatherings start proceeding under the scorching sun and end at dusk with a musical a show.

Hence, though the main conception of launching the May Day was to propel the voice of the proletariat both internationally and nationally, today however it has become a platform to stage the views of politicians.

On the other hand, unlike earlier, nowadays, the general public does not have to wait till the May Day to know the plight, protests, views of society, the working class and political oppositions. This is because whether they like or not they have to absorb all that every now and then from the frequent strikes and protests that blocks the Colombo roads, suburbs and now even the villages that disturb the peace and daily life routines.

But still, there are a few segments of the society who do not demand for the services they do. This includes the Security Forces and the Police who are satisfied with what the Government offers them, and ready to serve the country day and night at all time.

About 30 to 40 years back, the May Day was one of the events celebrated by gatherings mainly in Colombo, and was next to the celebrations of Independence Day and Vesak.

The May Days were held even during the 30-years of the North-East Tamil terrorism era, in which many May Day political rallies were attacked by the terrorists causing death and disability to prominent political leaders and innocent civilians in the country.

Firm stand

It is the first time in the history of Sri Lanka that a prevailing Government took a firm stand to ban the May Day this year as a safety precaution.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and other leaders of the main political parties including Anura Kumara Dissanayaka of the JVP are expected to deliver their May Day speeches via the electronic media.

However, `May Day’ is an anglicised version of French with the meaning of `Help Me’.

Not only `one class’ or `one community’ is asking for help but the whole country and the whole world is crying for `help’. We cannot wait till the Government serves us all, but to arise as responsible citizens, and be aware, cautious and protect ourselves from the Covid-19 plague.

Hence, ignoring all the barriers among us, let’s get together and face it. It’s the common enemy and the common war we all have to face bravely and defeat. Stay Safe!