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May Day 2019

May Day : Achievement and expectation

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Anis Fatema :
The world salutes the revolutionary movement and sacrifice of  the labor class of Chicago, USA, who raised their voice against suppression by the employers, demanding human rights of eight hour working day for the workers. On 1st May the revolutionary message was delivered by the workers. 1st May-the  The International Workers' Day reveals the history of movement for the establishment of a far developed working atmosphere for the workers.
In the late Nineteenth century the working class was in constant deprivation, oppression and against all these inhuman atrocities there were scattered protests for the workers' right. The labour class struggled to gain their right of  eight hour working day. At that time it was quite common to work ten to sixteen hour days in unsafe condition with poor working atmosphere. Death and injury of the workers was common in their working places.
During 1860's the working people raised their voice with agitation to shorten the working hour without a cut in pay. But it was not until the late 1880's that organized labor was able to garner enough strength to declare eight hour working day. Undoubtedly the consent of the employers  was absent in this proclamation.
In the year of 1884 The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU) proclaimed : "Eight hours shall constitute a legal day's labor." In the year 1885, the FOTLU, backed by many members of labor locals, reiterated their proclamation stating that it would be supported by strikes and demonstrations.
At that time a section of people spoke against the proclamation and demand made by the workers. A year before the Haymarket Massacre, Samuel Fielden pointed out in the newspaper, 'The Alarm' : " Whether a man works eight hours a day or ten hours a day, he is still a slave." This statement was in support of the employer class. On the contrary, there were personalities like August Spies who gave their firm support in favour of the workers. August Spies was the Editor of 'The Workers' Time', a newspaper that used to be published in German language.
The workers were demanding for eight hours working day.  Chicago was getting shaken. Workers from various places joined the demonstrations at any cost. Names like Albert Parson, Johann Most, August Spies and Louis Lingg became popular. Parades , bands and large number of demonstrators in the street exemplified the workers' strength and unity without any violent action.
On 3rd May 1886, the violence broke out at MacCormick Reaper Works against strikers.  For the last six months the demonstrating workers had been harassed and beaten up by the armed Pinkerton agents and the police. Most of those workers belonged to the anarchists dominated Metal Workers Union. The violence took an extremely visible turn during a speech near the MacCromick plant, where some two hundred demonstrators joined the steelworkers on the picket line. Beating by the members of the police clubs escalated into rock throwing by the strikers which the police responded with gunfire and that resulted in the killing of at least two strikers.
Within the following night the notice for a public meeting on 4th May, 1886 was issued. The workers were filled with agony and rage. Three thousand of the laborers gathered at Haymarket in spite of bad weather and a very short notice. This huge protest gathering included the workers' families and the Mayor of Chicago himself. Later on it was testified by the Mayor and found that the crowd maintained calmness and discipline. In the meeting the speaker August Spies said," No suggestion….for immediate use of force and violence toward any person." Detectives of police force were also present in the gathering. It is said that one of the detectives informed the main body of police that the speakers were using inflammatory language.  The police marched on the speakers' wagon and began to dispense the crowd. The most horrible episode of violence broke out with a bomb blast. Enraged police fired into the crowd. A large number of people was killed. Chicago witnessed a mass bloodshed. Seven or eight policemen also lost their lives. The bomb thrower could never be identified. That remained a mystery. Aside from the bomb thrower, it was police, not the protesters, who perpetrated the violence.
Afterwards eight leaders of protesters were arrested. They were Albart Parsons, August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Oscar Neeba, Michael Schwab, George Engel, Adolph Fisher and Louis Lingg. They were convicted of murder. But the truth is that only three of them were present at Haymarket and they were visibly busy in delivering their speech when the bomb blast occurred.
The jury in the trial was comprised of business leaders in a gross mockery of justice similar to the Sacco-Vanzetti case trial. The truth behind the curtain was, those eight leaders or organizers had been convicted not because of their actions, of which they were innocent, but for their political and social beliefs. Later on their applications to appeal proved to be a failure. On November 11, 1887 Parsons, Spies, Engel and Fisher were hung to death. Louis Lingg committed suicide with an explosive device in his mouth demonstrating his final protest against the mockery of justice.
The episode of oppression and inhuman torture started to elope after a certain period of time. The remaining organizers who were arrested named Fielden, Neeba and Schwab were pardoned by the supreme authority.
Once, immediately after the Haymarket Massacre, the revolutionary ideology was mentioned as 'Red Scare' in the country. Gradually the revolutionary voice of the working people could leave a glorious impact in the mind of the intellectuals of U.S.A . Today we see the world is embracing their ideology and 1st May has been established as 'The International Workers Day'. We pay our humble tribute to the Haymarket Martyrs. May Day is an official holiday in sixty-six countries, and is unofficially celebrated in many more.
In this context we may have a glance over some paras of poems of our National Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam and Sukanta Bhattacharya, the Poet of the deprived and have no'ts. They have contributed to our literature the revolutionary spirit of Movement for the rights of the deprived labour class. The sparks of revolution and demand for human rights for the hardworking class in our society have been elaborated in our literature. We get overwhelmed when Kazi Nazrul Islam says :
"Rajpothe tobo choliche motor, sagore jahaj chole,/Relpothe chole bashpo-shokot, desh chheye gelo kole, /Bolo to esob kahader dan! Tomar ottalika/Kar khune ranga?-thuli khule dekho, proti eete achhe likha……"
Theses verses are followed by :
" .....Pahar-kata se pother du'pashe poriya jader har,/...Tomare sebite hoilo jahara mojur, moote o kooli,/Tomare bohite jara pobitro onge lagalo dhooli;/Tarai manush, tarai debota, gahi tahaderi gaan,/Taderi byethito bokhkhe pa fele ase nobo utthan!"
-"Your luxury cars are plying through the streets/ And your big ships are cruising over the oceans. /The fast steam engines are running on railways,/ The country is filled with plants and machinary : /Can you tell me whose contributions are all these?                                                         
-Their bones today are strewn on either side /Of those very roads. Those who, in order to render/ You service, became day-labourers./ Those who covered their cherished body with dust /Only to carry you and your belongings,                                              They are indeed the real human beings, /they are the saints./ I sing their 'inner voice' through my songs./ Marching over their painful suffering breasts /The New Revolution will raise its new head." (Translation : Abu Rushd)
In the poems of Sukanta Bhattyacharya the employer class has been identified in the following manner :
"Nayeber onurodhe dhonopoti charidik/Dekhe niye bar koy haslen fik-fik;/Tarpor bollen : bola bhari shokto/Sobcheye bhalo khete goriber rokto."
"---To satisfy the request made by Nayeb dhonopoti looks around/And smiles fik-fik;/Saying: it's difficult to utter that/It's best to be the poors' blood sucker." (Translation : Anis Fatema)
Sukanta Bhattyacharya, in his sparking and rebellious poem, ' Pahela May er Kobita' mentioned the appeal of 'Red Scare'. The poet says :
"Lal agun chhoriye porechhe digonto theke digonte,/Ki hobe ar kukurer moto beche theke?
Toiri hok lal agune jholsano amader khadyo./ Shikoler dag dheke diye gojiye uthuk /Singher keshor protyeker ghare."
 "-the 'Red scare' has been scattered all over the spheres,/What's the use of living a life that of a stray dog?…
-Let the 'Red Scare' produce the food to our hearts' content./Let the wound mark of chaining get covered /By the overgrown mane of lions on each and every shoulder." (Translation : Anis Fatema)                                       
According to the teaching of the Holy Quran, justice is the pre-condition for a peaceful world. It mentions the word 'Al -Adl', to follow the balanced way of justice and 'Al-Qist', to recognize that every human being and every creature in this world has some rights. Everyone is to be given his/her/its dues. This is justice. Injustice is to deprive others of their dues. Almighty Allah says in the holy Quran, " O you who believe, stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort (justice) or decline to justice, verily Allah is well acquainted with all that you do." (An-Nisaa 4:135)
The teaching of justice is one of the prominent factors in the fair relationship of the employer with the workers. Islam has given high regard for work. Undoubtedly this section of people who work and earn their living by their own labor deserves respect. There are general and specific teachings in Islam on the treatment of workers. There are five most important factors which need to be emphasized while dealing with the workers. Firstly, there should be clear and transparent agreements. Employees should know their duties and they should be told their rights in terms of vacations, leaves, compensations, etc. The Holy Quran reveals, "O you, who believe, fulfill your contracts." ( Al-Maidah, 5:1) Hazrat Muhammad (Sm) said, "Muslims must abide by their agreements, unless there is an agreement that makes lawful what is unlawful or makes unlawful what is lawful." (At-Tirmiji).  Secondly, the dignity of workers should be upheld. Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, President of the Fiqh Council of North America, stated : "Our Prophet (Sm) kissed the hands of a laborer who showed him his rough hands due to his hard labor. He prayed for him and spoke very highly of those who labor over against those who sit idle or go begging." Thirdly the employers should be kind to their employees.  Kindness is one of the pre-conditions before employing someone. The employee should be considered as a brother and thus Rasulullah (Sm) said, " Your brothers are your responsibility. Allah has made them under your hands. So whosoever has a brother under his hand, let him give him food as he eats and dress as he dresses. Do not give them work that will overburden them and if you give them such task then provide them assistance." (Bukhari Sharif). Fourthly, Workers should be provided with proper and just wages in time. Regarding this issue it is mentioned in the Holy Quran, " To the Madyan people We sent Shu'aib, one of their own brethren. He said : O my people, worship Allah; You have no other god but Him. Now has come unto you a Clear (sign) from your Lord. Give just measure and weight, nor withhold from the people the things that are due; and do no mischief on the earth after it has been set in order: that will be best for you, if you have Faith." (Al-Araf 7:85) Muhammad (Sm) said, "Give the worker his wages before his sweat dries." (Ibn Majah). Fourthly, based on the mentioned points a conclusion can be drawn that workers in Islam do have right to exercise the freedom of association and the right to form Unions.
Till today the workers are struggling for freedom and justice. They are running behind justice holding their dreams and hopes. History has given us a lesson - The May Day to remember. We have to bear in mind that people were killed  in their innocent movement for the eight hour legal labour day. Now they are having weekends and recreation at the cost of their sacrifice. But the workers are deprived still. They have to go a long way to achieve complete justice in the name of workers' right. August Spies' call for labourers of the world, who are yet in the struggle and movement to achieve their goal of human right : "The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today ."

 (The writer is columnist, short story writer and poet.)

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