An event flagged by blood-splattered clothes of martyrs who sacrificed lives for a cause in 1886 in the US— the Greens, Blues & Reds here who barged in the 1960s to commemorate the event continues to desecrate the hallowed concept until the Virus intervened.
The pioneer in worker struggles in Sri Lanka, A. E. Goonasinghe “Father of the Labour Movement”, born on May 1, held the first recorded May Day on May 1, 1927, and a rally in 1933; however, the first organized political May Day rally was held by Ceylon Federation of Labour [CFL] affiliated to LSSP was in 1936. The SLFP-led coalition of Bandaranaike declared International Workers’ Day a holiday in order to commemorate May 4, 1886, where the Haymarket tragedy occurred in Illinois, Chicago.
The May Day is the Workers’ Day and there were no politicians when the workers went on parade demanding an eight-hour work day in Chicago 135 years ago, demanding them to be treated as human beings and not as animals. They were not slaves but men with dignity. Subsequently politicians entered and polluted the event playing politics with the motive of grabbing power. The whole idea of worker struggle lost its meaning and it turned out to be an amusement for the power crazy politicians. May 1 should be dedicated to those who shed sweat, tears, toil, and with blood in their heroic struggles. How did the Chicago’s RED FLAG, or the blood splattered shirt of the worker who got killed on May 4, 1886, turned Blue/Green under the UNP/SLFP. Do they have any right to ‘celebrate’ this day under a festive mood, with colourful pageants and processions and forgetting true meaning of International Labour Day?
What have they done for the welfare and the betterment of the workers? Those massive rallies held on May1 spoke profusely of the miserable state of affairs or ‘Appalling Extravagant Circuses held in Sri Lanka — rallies to display their strength forcefully in a contest to persuade foolish audiences. Those boastful and self-important power lust politicos glorified their own image.
The poor workers had to toil under intense heat, gathering rubbish, polythene flags, empty bottles, and even half-naked and drunk ‘revelers’ among the garbage left-over by the politicos on the previous day while cleaning up the venues which were left in states of trash dumps by the blind, stupid and intoxicated followers.
Let me quote, what the great trade unionist, General Secretary, Bala Thampoe once stated: “This is a 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.”
"The proud history behind May day originated on May 3, 1886, the American workers’ struggle demanding an eight-hour work when it was practice to work 10 to 16 hours a day in hazardous conditions"
The rallies did not provide any significance of the international unity of the working class. Some certainly used to whip up racism and exploit the growing displeasure among the people in the governing party. The leaders manipulate them through the ‘Trade Union bosses’ who amass funds from monthly deductions of the unsuspecting membership of which part is pocketed or shared with the leaders. May Day is a socialist, Marxist and anarchist concept; the repressive rulers have no place in it. Massive demonstrations using or abusing gullible workers and ‘grass-root supporters’ that are blind to reality follow the ‘leaders’ under multi-cloured banners. The political swindlers schemed to deceive the poor supporter and have a good laugh at their expense at the end of the day. While working class all over the world excluding Sri Lanka, used the occasion for showing their solidarity and strength.
The long walk from Chicago to Colombo has lost memories as proletariat struggle turned to a political show piece in the previous years. The proud history behind May day originated on May 3, 1886, the American workers’ struggle demanding an eight-hour work when it was practice to work 10 to 16 hours a day in hazardous conditions. Death and injury were routine at every work place that did not receive any sympathy. The Haymarket tragedy in Illinois, Chicago became openly involved in the struggle. A mysterious man threw a bomb at the police when police attempted to disperse a public gathering during a strike compelling the police to respond by opening fire and slaying four of them instantly. Nine leaders were prosecuted for hurling a hand-grenade at Police during riots. Four of them were later hanged.
May Day rally defied JR govt’s ban in ‘87’
An LTTE Car Bomb near Pettah Bo-tree had claimed 123 lives and severely injured 218 persons on April 21, 1987. The following day University Students backed by JVP staged demonstrations encircling ‘Braemar’, the Ward Place residence of JR. Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha and Ven. Muruththettuwe theras led the Bikkhu section. The intelligence feared worst scenarios on May Day and banned all rallies and imposed full day curfew on May 1 under emergency laws. The ‘Leftists’ were planning to defy the ban and celebrate a Red-only May Day. The ‘Maubima Surakeemay Vyaparaya’ MSV decided to join the fray and held a rally and a procession at the political temple, Abhayaramaya in Narahenpita.
The traditional Marxists, LSSP and CP encouraged Trade Unions affiliated to them to assemble at Union Place, opposite LSSP headquarters for a demonstration. Discussions were held at the Abhayaramaya on how to defy the ban. On May 1, over 2,000 people attended the Abhayaramaya by 2.00 pm. Ven. Hedigalle Pannatissa , Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda, the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha and Dinesh Gunawardana addressed the meeting. A 10-point May Day resolution was adopted at the meeting after which the organizing committee appealed to the participants to peacefully disperse, which the participants did not obey. Police had to open fire killing two young men.
Assassination of President Premadasa
President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who commenced his long and illustrious political journey under pioneering labour leader, A. E. Gunasinghe, died on May 1 attacked by an LTTE suicide bomber. Video clips revealed a carefree relaxed President greeting people lined up the streets on 1993 May Day rally when the assassin rode towards him with explosives. The Galle Face Green’s pageants of 1978-92, with Indian ‘stars’ ended with the tragic and unfortunate premature death of R. Premadasa, who had a vision for uplifting the poorest of the poor.
The Haymarket Monument commemorating the heroes has strong words inscribed on it: ‘THE DAY WILL COME WHEN OUR SILENCE WILL BE MORE POWERFUL THAN THE VOICES YOU ARE THROTTLING TODAY”
The May 1 political VIRUS; the so-called Unionists had been compelled to suspend saving energy, time and funds on political extravaganza for the second successive year. The Covid Virus deserves a big thank you. Will this be a rejoinder for the political leadership of this nation who celebrate May Day as a political weapon? Let only the genuine working class, especially the estate sector have their voice on May 1; and from here onwards every year let’s prevent the politicians from taking the poor for a solid ride helped by ground-level party rank and file [who blindly follow ‘my party’] being exploited by the chain of command of the main parties now relabelled and call themselves ‘new’; a novel way to hoodwink the voter.
Let’s resolve to make this the end of the competition for ‘Who will Pile up the Largest Garbage Dump’ on May 1, or the people will dump the entire ‘political garbage’ of all colours and shades in to the history’s waste bin.
The author can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org