May Day and the Historic Mission of the Working Class in Current Situation

May 31, 2022 0 By Yatharth

Indian Federation of Trade Unions (Sarwahara)Approach Paper for the May Day Workers’ Convention held at IMA Hall, Patna on 10th May 2022 by IFTU(S). Report of the Convention is present in the last section of this issue.

Workers of the whole world observed their most important historic day and celebration on 1st May in many ways through meetings, demonstrations, processions, etc. May Day reminds us the pledge of the working class to continue their struggle till the complete eradication of capitalist exploitation and slavery. May Day reminds us that all the rights of the workers like ‘8 hours working day’ and others were not a gift or charity from the ruling classes, but were earned through struggles involving immense sacrifices. May Day also affirms that class-conscious and united working class can overcome and shatter the most powerful forces of bourgeois thievery and exploitation. We discuss here the historic mission of the working class in the context of the heritage of May Day and present situation.

Revolutionary Legacy of May Day

In the mid 19th century there was no time limit for the labour performed by the workers anywhere in the world and they were forced to work 14-16 hours a day. Workers were becoming agitated and struggling against this around the world, especially in the US, Europe, Australia, etc. American workers for the first time organised a conference on the demand of ‘8 hour working day’ in October 1884 in Chicago, and decided upon 1st May 1886 to be the day from which this ‘8 hour working day’ was to be enforced. This led to the well-known events of Haymarket during the long struggle of Chicago workers.

The fire lit by this spark of American workers’ struggle soon spread throughout the world. The founding conference of the Second International, worldwide organisation of the working class, in Paris in 1889 resolved to agitate and protest throughout the world on a single day for the demand of ‘8 hour working day’ as well as to demonstrate the class consciousness, international solidarity and strength of the working class in the class struggle. Since the American workers had already chosen 1st May as the date for their movement, the same date was adopted by the International for the purpose of this worldwide protest. On the very first May Day on 1st May 1890, large protests took place in several countries raising demand for an ‘8 hour working day’ and millions of workers left work to join these demonstrations.

After the resounding success of this very first international protest on a single day, on demand of workers of different countries, the International in its Brussels conference in 1891 decided to observe the 1st of May annually. In addition to demand for an 8 hour working day and the demonstration of working class strength and solidarity, the Brussels conference also added two more significant aims to the May Day observation – struggle for labour laws incorporating working class rights and to protest against the wars. The word celebration was also used here for the first time, which conveyed the double significance of the May Day, both political as well as signifying proletarian class culture. Thus May Day was not only the banner of political and economic struggle of working class against the wage slavery of the capitalism, but also the symbol of the advanced proletarian culture full of youthful energy, hopes and expectations in the fight for a beautiful life in a future society free from all exploitation of human beings, as against the exploitative and decadent culture of the ruling classes dominant in the existing society. May Day challenged the festive calendar of the ruling classes full of religious, feudal and bourgeois symbolism, and became the biggest secular celebration of the international solidarity of the working class of the whole world free from all the prejudices and divisions of gender, race, religion, nationality, caste, etc bred by the history of class divided exploitative society.

This caravan of struggle has been moving forward since then, having won many legal rights for the workers in addition to that of the 8 hour working day. The ideology of the working class was further tempered by the class consciousness born in the mass of workers through these struggles, and revolutionary parties of the working class were formed all over the world. In 1917, the Russian proletariat,  led by their Bolshevik Party, overthrew capitalist power and founded a working class state. Gradually, one by one, working class power was victorious in one fourth of the globe. The 1st of May or May Day has since been the symbolic day of the unity and solidarity of the workers of the world and their struggle for emancipation from capitalist exploitative rule.

Increasing Onslaught on Working Class

Having passed through a long journey full of many ups and downs, May Day today is again with us at a most critical and difficult juncture. As the working class movement retreated in the later part of this journey and became more and more divided and disintegrated, the capitalist class has intensified its onslaughts. The heritage of May Day was built on the struggle for an 8 hour working day, but 12 to 14 hours labour on low wages has again become commonplace today. On the one hand, unemployment is at a record high, on the other, contractual work and casualisation is becoming the new norm in every sector. There is no longer any job security. Fixed Term employment (even for a few hours work) and hire & fire has become prevalent. Closures, lockouts and lay offs are common, making even the ‘permanent’ workers unsecured. Moreover, taking advantage of the pandemic and lockdown, the Modi government converted the calamity into an opportunity for the ruling class and has replaced 44 labour laws with 4 new labour codes which are completely anti-labour and pro-capitalist. These will result in implementation of hire and fire, contract system will be further strengthened, owner capitalists will be free for lay offs and lockouts, the right to form unions and collective bargaining will be further snatched away, and the legal right of 8 hour working day and minimum wages will become completely non existent.

While the rate of inflation has become sky high, there’s only nominal growth in wages. All the public sector companies and enterprises like Railway, Airlines, Airports, Banks, Insurance companies, BSNL, Coal, Electricity, Oil-Gas, Steel, etc are being sold off to big monopoly capital on throw away prices. The Modi government has also converted the defence equipment producing Ordnance factories into 7 corporations in order to privatise them later. When the workers struck work to resist it, the Essential Services Maintainance Act (ESMA) was imposed to declare the strike as illegal. To understand how we have reached this state of affairs, we need to understand the context of the world situation existing now.

Challenges of Emerging Global Situation

While the defeat of fascism in the Great Anti-Fascist War, on the one hand, created a socialist camp,  on the other, by helping to bring the colonial system to its end also made capitalism for the first time in history a truly world system owing to the national bourgeoisie ascending to state power in most of these newly independent countries. This bourgeoisie as the new ruling class in these countries undertook the task of expansion and consolidation of the capitalist production relations in all parts of the economy, which roughly reached its conclusion by the 1970s. The need for post war reconstruction and the expansion of capitalist relations worldwide made the three post war decades the  ‘Golden Age’ of world capitalism. Owing to this change in global balance of class power and internal weaknesses the state power in socialist countries too one after the other shifted to the hands of the revisionists. After a period of gradual ‘development’ of capitalist production relations within the shell of socialism, the whole of the erstwhile socialist camp degenerated into naked capitalist robber system by the end of 1980s. It was also in this period of post war reconstruction when there was a  temporary expansion of employment and, therefore, rise in wages, this possibility led most of the trade union movement to restrict itself to the reformist economic struggles.

However this ‘golden age’ of capitalism couldn’t complete even these three decades properly and got bogged down into capitalist economic crises. After the first general capitalist crisis in 1873, constantly accelerated export of capital to and expansion of capitalist relations through barbaric plunder in the peripheral countries under colonial rule had provided an increasingly important way out of the ever deeper cesspool of economic crisis for the developed capitalist countries. This was why imperialism pushed the world to two extremely destructive and barbaric wars. But as the capitalist production relations have not only expanded but also become intensive in each and every remote corner of the globe, this escape route has become ever narrower and ultimately in the 21st century, the crisis of capitalism has become almost irresolvable and endless. This cesspool of intense crisis has led capitalism to adopt the path of neoliberal economic policies. We will here very briefly touch upon three significant characteristics of this phase:

  1. While neoliberals are fond of talking about reducing state size and control to allow private capital free and unregulated play in the markets, in reality, on the contrary, bourgeois state becomes far stronger and more absolute to function as almost a direct agent of private capital especially monopoly corporate capital and begins to act as its dealer, salesman, accountant and also bouncer. Military industrial complex, huge infrastructure and real estate projects like Central Vista, River Linking, Expressways, etc in so called ‘Public Private Partnership’ are characteristic of it. To ensure the super profits of the monopoly capital, the state, through such projects, not only manages the demand, sales and finance for capital but also ensures realisation with all its might. And also arranges bailouts for capitalists if bankruptcy threatens despite all the above help.
  2. Centres of finance capital create demand by massive expansion of public and private debt, which is met by capitalists of other countries by encouraging production at cheaper value in the name of export oriented growth. But we know only higher productivity, at low wages, can supply the cheaper commodities in capitalism. After Japan and Germany, now China has reached the pinnacle of this strategy of ‘development’. This requires stuffing the markets with cheap commodities produced by migrant labour brought from relatively backward regions and kept in virtual semi-slavery like conditions working 12-14 hours a day at wages lower than the workers in other countries at same level of productivity. The capitalists of these countries invite capital for investment by offering a high level of exploitation of their working class. This is the very idea behind Modi’s ‘Make in India’. The implementation of such a policy requires suppression of labour rights with the fullest might of the bourgeois state. Thus the 4 draconian labour codes encroaching on all legal labour rights obtained with great sacrifices.
  3. An increasingly intensifying race between emerging and crystallising capitalist imperialist groupings to capture and extract to the fullest extent the natural resources, productive capacity, markets, transportation and communication capabilities and channels of finance is at the root of ever newer, more destructive and rapacious wars. Within three decades of the proud declaration of the ‘end of history’, taking a position in the emerging imperialist polarisation has become not only a business necessity but also a must for survival for the capitalist class of every single country, even those who could remain ‘neutral’ in earlier imperialist wars. Extreme national jingoism, warmongering, orchestrated campaigns for militarised state and strongman leadership, suppression of all dissent and protest, are but the logical and necessary ideological-political consequences of it.

Above three main characteristics of capitalism of the period of ‘endless crisis’ are at the root of the constantly increasing tendency towards authoritarianism and fascism in all countries. The erosion of the relative autonomy of the bourgeois state of the period of free market capitalism has created a situation where in fascist take over no longer requires any Nazi style assault on the facade of the bourgeois democratic state, the whole state structure including the parliament, judiciary, bureaucracy having become the facilitators for the fascist upsurge.

This is the historical context in which we are discussing May Day today. However the other aspect of this is equally significant, that is, for the first time in history the capitalists-imperialists and proletarian-semi proletarian majority of the masses in each of the countries now stands in direct conflict on a global scale. Besides, the remaining population of the intermediate classes like farmers, small traders-shopkeepers, lower middle classes are facing complete ruin under the rapacious onslaught of the monopoly capital to concentrate all wealth. The material conditions of their life will not allow them to remain a reserve force of the capital for long. Hence it becomes utmost important that the proletariat, the future ruling class, begins to think of itself as the leading class of society, present itself as the emancipator of all the oppressed humanity and intervene in all the political events and movements with a programme befitting that role instead of being just spectator or passive supporter/opponent. For the first time, we are really at the juncture of evolving worldwide revolutionary conditions. This worldwide proletarian revolution will emancipate not only proletariat and working classes but the whole of oppressed humanity and even nature from the disastrous effects of capitalist exploitation. This is the historical mission of the proletariat.

Significance of May Day Today

The wheel of capitalist profit generated from the exploitation of labour is stuck today because of the world capitalist system having drowned in the cesspool of endless crisis of its own making. It therefore is trying to survive and lengthen its life by trying to suck even the last drops of the blood and sweat of the workers. Hence, the increasing murderous onslaughts on workers’ rights. Moreover, to distract from real burning issues and to disunite us the bourgeois governments are spreading deadly communal venom and instigating riots throughout the country, mass media having also been deployed as a weapon of this mass destruction. Usual bourgeois governments being not efficient in fulfilling the task, fascist BJP government has been brought in, which is putting behind bars those raising voices for rights of and justice for workers. Armed repression of mass movements has become a common occurrence. Race for profiteering among the monopolies has resulted in an imperialist NATO-Russia war, the destruction of which is being borne by the Ukrainian people. Still the capitalist wheel of profit remains stuck, demonstrating that the rule of capital can’t continue for long. Just a last and strong collective push by the united working class is needed to overthrow it and establish working class power, that is, a society based on equality and fraternity and free from all exploitation, known as socialism. It is in the context of this historic mission that working class must free its special and historic day, May Day, from all shades of ritualism, upholding it as the symbol of its emancipatory political economic struggles and celebration of proletarian culture, and transform it into such a strong demonstration of its class power and international solidarity that will make all the capitalists of the world tremble with fear of the end of their rule.

Keep aloft the fighting banner of May Day!

Carry forward the revolutionary heritage of International Workers’ Day and struggle against capitalist exploitation!

Long live International Workers’ day!

Workers of the World, Unite!Down with capitalism and imperialism!