Ah! May Day. It's here. Our newspapers will carry a close-up shot of hardworking men or women in action (e.g., breaking bricks, carrying loads, or manning the machine) to draw our attention to the tears and sweat of a largely overlooked mass whose discomfort ensures the comfort of the rest. Certain political parties will brandish their hammers and scythes to bring out a routine rally here and there, chanting slogans about breaking the chains of oppression to unite the local labourers with their comrades elsewhere. Editorials in their sophisticated articulation will remind the readers of the place where it all began: the Haymarket Affair of 1886 in which workers in Chicago demanded for an eight-hour workday and how their peaceful rally turned into a riot killing scores of workers and police officials, and how their sacrifice paved the way for some labour rights that did not exist before. We will be told how three years later, in 1889, the socialists and the communists of the Second International decided to commemorate the day as the International Workers' Day, and how many countries around the world decided to observe it as a public holiday.
For many, it is a day to take a break in honour of those whose lives know nothing of any break. These labourers know that the moment they stop working, that very moment food will stop appearing on their plates. Working for them is as inherent as breathing. The moment you stop, you drop. Hence even during the pandemic-induced lockdown you see them in the streets looking for jobs, crying for food. One recent symbol that captures the plight of the downtrodden adequately involves an upturned rickshaw next to a tear-soaked man holding a Tk 1,000 fine ticket issued by the police who, however, are fine with letting the airconditioned private cars go by without any hassle. The image talks of an asymmetrical power arrangement. The demand for fair treatment, fair wage, fair working condition remains unattained as we approach yet another May Day.