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MAY DAY for workers or politicians ?

30 April 2016 12:30 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


On May 1st in Sri Lanka, rallies scheduled to be held would comprise festivities, colourful pageants and  processions. Regrettably however, the true meaning of this International Labour Day and its connection to the interests of workers appears to have been forgotten by many and instead attention focused elsewhere.


May Day is a day with deep historical roots. It grew out of the struggles of workers for the implementation of an eight-hour workday and better working conditions. It is to celebrate the achievements of the labour movement and also to win demands.

The first May Day demonstration was in Chicago in 1886, when 80,000 workers went on strike. It is said that the rally itself was peaceful with a large crowd. But, the police dispersed the participants of the rally. Violence erupted when a bomb was thrown by someone who has never been identified at the rally attended by innocent workers along with their families.

Eight workers were killed, while many were injured as a result of police action. Eight rebels were also arrested by the police and convicted of murder as a punishment, not for their actions, but for their social and political beliefs. 

Demonstrations began all around the world to mark the Chicago incident and May 1st was accepted for an annual demonstration world wide. 

On May 1st in Sri Lanka, rallies scheduled to be held would comprise festivities, colourful pageants and  processions. Regrettably however, the true meaning of this International Labour Day and its connection to the interests of workers appears to have been forgotten by many and instead attention focused elsewhere.

Sri Lanka celebrated its first May Day in 1933 under the leadership and patronage of A.E. Goonesinha who as the founder of the Ceylon Labour Party. He was referred to as the “Father of the Labour Movement”. 

The modern May Day has become politicised event that poses the question; ‘How are  current Sri Lankan political party leaders hoping to protect the rights of  workers?’

Consequently, the question whether the working class directly connected with May Day has been given due recognition in the programmes arranged for May Day celebrations in Sri Lanka. 
Most of the May Day rallies organised by political parties are to be attended by party followers and voters making bona fide worker participants a minority.When workers cleaning some roads in Colombo were asked about May Day, it was clear they hardly knew what May Day was about. The reason may be because  May Day is not celebrated in Sri Lanka meaningfully as a ‘workers’ day’ with worker participation in drawing attention to their needs. Instead, political parties make use of  May Day to exhibit their political powers by gathering larger crowds to take part in their so-called May Day rallies that are in fact political rallies.

The hot topic these days are these political rallies scheduled to take place on May Day by the main political parties. 

The divided SLFP with one group rubbing shoulders with the UNP and another group comprising hopefuls who were not given a position as a minister, or a deputy minister or state minister in government forming the other group. They have vowed not to leave the side of their former master, President Mahinda Rajapaksa. These two groups are holding two May Day celebration rallies; one in Galle and the other in Kirullapone.

This scenario has made people wonder whether both SLFP groups and the ruling UNP are holding the May Day rallies to commemorate the rebels who were killed in the Chicago demonstration, talk about workers’ rights and needs or just add muscle to their political agendas. 

The ruling UNP stated that its May Day rally is dedicated to the workers of the country because ‘they are the ones who can pull the country out of its present debt trap’ inferring that that the country is dependent on the working class to solve the debt crisis. 

If so, the  question is ‘ Are the people responsible for this massive debt?’ Also what is the role of ‘capitalists’ in providing answers to the issue? And what are the commitments the President, Prime Minister, ministers, deputy ministers, state ministers and parliamentarians-government- have made to find answers to the country’s debts? Perhaps May Day speeches  delivered by government representatives would be focused on that burning issue.



May Day should be used to make a social revolution: JVP


The People’s Liberation Front (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna) which is considered the largest left movement in Sri Lanka, stated that the main political parties in Sri Lanka including the UNP and SLFP have no right to celebrate May Day since it belongs to the working class that is still suffering as a result of reckless decisions made by former governments and the current government.

The JVP May Day rally is scheduled to be held at the BRC Grounds, Colombo under the theme of ‘New Economy, New Society’. 

Speaking to the Dailymirror , JVP Comrade Lal Kantha said May Day should be used to make a revolution in society.

“It is unfortunate to see that May Day is being used by political parties to exhibit their power struggle. 
The International May Day that was born in a Chicago strike is celebrated under red flags. How come it is under green flags of the UNP or blue flags of the SLFP? These political parties have no right to celebrate this day because they have not done anything for the welfare and the betterment of the working class. 

The symbol used in May Day rallies should also be a reaper and hammer, not the elephant or the betel leaf. The JVP has never used its party symbol the bell in May Day rallies, because it does not meet our principles with regard to the May Day that belongs to the working class. 

Important discussions should take place in any May Day rally to make a change for the betterment of the poor working class. Nowadays, everybody wants to show the largest crowd in their May Day rallies. They will do anything to achieve that not only by distributing alcohol.  money, or anything else even if it’s illegal to collect a larger crowd. ”


Our May Day will be an anti-UNP May Day: Lanka Sama Samaja Party

Tissa Vitarana who is the General Secretary of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, said they joined hands with the Joint Opposition to celebrate May Day against the UNP-led government which he said is disregarding the real needs of workers while strengthening  capitalism.

“We need to hold a May Day Rally against the UNP government that is not protecting the rights of the people. This UNP government is implementing principles that reduced the welfare of the people. How can they protect the working class while increasing VAT on all  goods and services? On May Day, we intend to send a message to the people it is high time to topple the government because it has placed burdens on the working class.”

“The former government did not follow anti-working class principles. Arbitrary decisions were not made by the then government to give maximum facilities to the capital class. But, this government does everything focusing the betterment of the capital class. These are the reasons why we decided to hold a separate May Day rally to re-establish the rights of the working class.”

“We never distributed alcohol and packets of rice to bring more people to our rallies. A few days ago, when I went to Yatiyanthota for a personal reason, I came to know that the UNP district organisers have started collecting people to attend the UNP May Day rally by distributing alcohol and money. The same procedure is being followed by the SLFP these days. We are the only ones who are celebrating May Day meaningfully. The largest crowd will be seen in the Joint Opposition rally in Kirulapone,” However, allegations that alcohol, rice packets and money are distributed for political rally goers came under heavy criticism during the former government which was headed by then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Even after the recent political rally organised by the Joint Opposition at the Hyde Park Grounds, Colombo in March, photographs and videos showed a considerable number of people who attended the rally carrying bottles of alcoholic beverages. 

Some of them were seen already under the influence of alcohol.



UNP, SLFP, JO rallies are mere political rallies: Ceylon Mercantile Union

The General Secretary of Ceylon Mercantile Union (CMU) Sylvester Jayakody who was appointed to the post after the oldest trade unionist Bala Thampoe, said the rallies organised by the SLFP, UNP and the Joint Opposition on May Day, are not ‘May Day’ rallies. He said there will be no representation of the real working class but only by members of those political parties brought in buses to their rallies.

“Neither this government nor the former government did any good for the working class. They only use the May Day rallies to fulfill their cheap political ambitions. It is also a responsibility of the people to realise their power and refrain from pursuing money or other benefits. 

At present, I think the people should stand against  political agendas and raise  voices to establish their rights. Any politician who is set to speak  touchingly on  May Day of workers’ rights, has not spoken a single word in Parliament about the working class,”

“I would like to recall what our veteran trade unionist Bala Thampoe once said: ‘This is paradise of fools because fools vote for politicians to form a government and later start blaming them for not ruling the country as promised before the elections.

 They are fooled again  by statements made by politicians before the next election and vote for the same politicians who failed to do any good for the people,” “The current reality is that workers’ wages are not enough to lead a comfortable life. That means over-time work as a result of which they spend less time with their families causing long-term problems. Speeches politicians make at May Day rallies should be about answers to the problems of workers; May Days are meant for that. However, the May Day celebrations and speeches made at May Day rallies will be irrelevant until they are put into practice to facilitate the real working class of the country.


  Comments - 1

  • e.weerapperuma Sunday, 01 May 2016 12:10 AM

    As we claim, if the May Day is the Workers Day, then politics and politicians of all rank and file should be out. There was no politics or politicians involved when the workers in their large numbers went on parade demanding eight hour work day, in Chicago, 130 years ago. It was a just demand of the labour to treat them as human beings not as animals. They are not slaves but men with human dignity. We do not read that E.A. Gunasinghe's in 1927,May Day was politically motivated. But subsequently politicians entered to ` play their politics and grab power. The whole idea of workers getting together lost its meaning and it has turned out to be a game for the power crazy politicians. The sad fact is the labourers have not realized ‘why politicians take lead in May Day rallies’. Not for the love of workers. It is a showcase of power. The yahapalanaya leaders lost a great opportunity. They should have come on to one stage for the sake of the workers putting aside their politics. (ewee)

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