By Zafar Ahmad
Every year on 1st May the world observes labors’ day to acknowledge how much important the work of the laborers is for the the society. Impressive speeches, debates and talk shows are held and banners are raised for expressing solidarity with the ‘workers of the world’. However, the working class has hardly anything to do with what is going on around them, who are worried like always as how to earn their day.
The origin of Labor Day can be traced back to around 1810 when the ‘Eight-Hour Day Movement’ began. The movement strived for preventing the exploitation of the laborers and for improving working conditions including better pay. This reasonable demand of the workers was not acceptable to the employers who made huge profits through the labor of the workers.
The movement became popular when Samuel Parnell, a carpenter in New Zealand, refused to work longer than eight hours followed by Stonemasons in Australia who, after a two-week strike, marched on the Australian Parliament and forced them to agree to his demands. Next country to take the example was Canada where 10,000 workers protested their exploitation until they got their ways.
The movement surface in America under the name of ‘Knights of Labor’, which became highly popular among ordinary people. The ‘Knights of Labor’ organized serious protests in 1882 and 1884, which eventually took the shape of a huge riot in May 1886, in which some people were killed, then they were taken seriously and their rights to decent working and wages came into being.
The following decades witnessed the spread of the workers’ movement across the world establishing trade unions. Political movements started which advocated workers’ rights, all these eventually led to improved working conditions. May 1st is then observed as an acknowledgement of the workers’ contributions.
Russian Revolution, 1917, further organized the laborers and peasants and many left wing parties came into being which raised the slogans advocating the rights of the hard working yet marginalized class. The fear of ‘Workers’ Revolutions’ forced many capitalist countries to respond to some of the genuine demands of the working class. The popularity of the left wing politics and the socialist revolutions across the world made the coming decades as the relatively better era for the workers. Labor laws were developed and many pro-labor policies were adopted, which aimed making working conditions better.
However, this initial progress made then proved to be short lived with the emergence of neo-liberalism which turned back the reforms made in response to the legitimate demands of the workers. Pro rich policies were developed and trade unions were discouraged and considered to be as threads to economic growth and hence were rude. The collapse of the USSR then discouraged the left wing politics and the following privatization of industries across the world threatened the basic social securities of the working class.
Since, then the gap between the rich and working class has reached to its ever peak. Eight billionaires of world own majority of wealth of the world. Neo-liberal policies have created false-consciousness among the workers in the developed world who instead of recognizing the real oppressors blame the immigrants to have occupied their jobs. The result is the resurgence of far right populist in the form of Brexit, Trump, Modi and expected Frexist in France.
Like many other countries Pakistan also observes the Labor Day as a member of International Labor Organization (ILO). Being the member of ILO, it is the responsibility of the state to uphold the core values of ILO. However, there have hardly been any actions beyond the speeches. For the laborer the situation is as ugly as ever it was.
Sky rocking prices, low wages, bad working conditions, lack of health insurance, soaring inflation, load shedding, no social security etc. are the real issues of the working class. While the attitudes of our elitist groups and factory owners are to further press the workers to the wall. In every major city child laborers, bonded laborers, women laborers and old laborers can be seen working under bad conditions in factories, brick kilns, and cotton industries with least hopes of coming out of such working conditions. Worst is the condition of the daily wagers and there no policy which bothers to addressing their miseries.
The county has a long history of maltreatment of workers on behalf of the employers. A recent example is the video from Baldia area in Karachi in which the factory owner can be seen brutally thrashing the workers including slapping a female staff and beating male workers with stick. Another case was registered in Sialkot against factory owners for tying up workers with chains. The lack of actions against the loss of almost 300 workers’ lives in Baldia Town Factory Fire shows the pathetic conditions of labor rights in the country. The government is less interested beyond their political moves while the laborer right activists hardly think other than their publicity aims.
The working class which is the backbone of economy has broken its own back while serving the society. Their conditions in the shining corporate culture is more pathetic than Karl Marx, the largest advocate of the working class had expressed. ‘The hands which produce goods cannot imagine buying it.’ The society is hardly interested in anything related to the laborers except the labor which ‘creates heaps of wealth and services for others but brings miseries to the laborers,’ and which builds palaces for the elites but hooves for the workers.’
In short, the workers of the world are in miseries and there is little hope that this will change in the near future. The workers have little any idea as how to improve this. The politics of workers has lost. Now, the world has no Marx to address their miseries, and there is no Lenin to organize their movement. The government and the corporate class understand this and there seems to be no actions or even speeches promising to give genuine rights to the ‘workers of the world.’ The remarks of the ruling PMLN, MNA that poor are born to serve the rich manifests the real attitudes of the elite towards the working class.The result is the working class from daily wagers to the lowest management is under sharp decline. It is time the authorities and the human rights’ organizations move beyond their empty claims towards action addressing the plight of the laborers.