Celebrating workers

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American thinker and linguist Noam Chomsky recently wrote, ‘People seem to know about May Day everywhere except where it began, here in the United States of America. That`s because those in power have done everything they can to erase its real meaning. … May Day started here, but then became an international day in support of American workers who were being subjected to brutal violence and judicial punishment.’ Successive federal governments have tried to prevent May Day processions in various parts of the country. They interpret it as the celebration of the May 1 riots. May Day’s origins has been traced to the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, when police fired on workers during a general strike for the eight hour workday, killing several demonstrators and resulting in the deaths of several police officers, largely from friendly fire. Like several other countries, May 1 is an official holiday in India also. But, it is not confined only to the left parties; several labour groupings celebrate it, including Manipur. Several functions are organized on May 1. Yet, we do not a sense of celebration for the workers who have endured hardships to achieve success. It would have been more appropriate if the labour unions had identified successful hard workers and feted them, in the presence of other workers. Like for example, the recent development of new work culture among the Manipuris specially among the Meiteis is something which we should celebrate. Groups like the KEDO and Workers Union, Manipur and their leaders should be feted. As such celebration would lead to the grounding of the new work culture. Besides, new resolves with regard to facilities in workplaces should be put in place, instead of high sounding speeches full of jargons. On this day, we need to revisit the plight of our workers in both organized and unorganized sector. In the unorganized sector, there is a phenomenal increase in women workers mostly in the construction sector and at stone-crushing units and brick kilns. The recent incident of a brick kiln owner and a woman worker found in unsavory conditions in a dark restaurant speak volumes about the plight of woman workers. Instead of public humiliation before the flashing lights of photo journalists and subsequent publication of the humiliation, it would have been more prudent if the groups had investigated how the illicit relations had developed between the two. It is not only about loose morals. We have already spoken about the restaurant drives and lack of socially sanctioned spaces for teenagers. But here and now, an investigation as to how the illicit relations developed between the two married persons. The man is the owner of the brick kiln while the woman is a worker there. Was she a victim of circumstances or was she forced in that condition by her employer who holds the purse strings? We all have heard of sexual harassment in workplaces. We think the social welfare department needs to move swiftly into action before the evidences are shoved under the rug. Sexual harassment at workplaces has become a serious issue in recent times. The recent restaurant incident could have been the tip of the iceberg, and there might have been several such cases which are not reported for fear of reprisal. A pro-active action in this regard by both the state government and the labour unions could be this May Day’s new resolve. Another important issue is the plight of underpaid household workers who are exploited day in day out. One area of serious concern is the sliding fall in the agricultural sector, where agricultural workers are being weaned away by the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), which is seriously affecting the work culture in the rural areas.

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