May Day hijacked


Over 130 years ago, on May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in over 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history. In Chicago, the epicenter for the 8-hour day, some 40,000 agitators went out on strike against the 10 to 16 hour work day. This is in America, where Capitalism is spelt in Block Capitals and their system is followed in many Western Capitals. It soon was declared as International Workers’ Day and, simply because it is commemorated on the 1st day of May each year, it came to be called May Day. Socialist countries took the cue and staged Workers’ Rallies on this day. The first day of May is still commemorated as International Workers’ Day in most countries.

In Sri Lanka, the 1st Day of May has undergone a metamorphosis of sorts. I remember in 1977, I marched with the CMU to their rally in Hyde Park. That was then. In 1993, President Premadasa led the UNP May Day procession. He was assassinated at Armour Street. The politicization of May Day, however, continued and it became a ‘show-of-strength’ for all political parties. The ‘show’ continues in varying strengths.

Apparently, the ‘Cut-Out-Culture’ has returned. Posters, banners, cut-outs hoardings have apparently re-appeared in their hordes. One way of inviting you to their ‘party’. One party says it has arranged 2,000 buses to transport people to attend their rally. One ‘lost and found’ (grammatically lost and re-nominated) minister in this party thoughtfully advises ‘ordinary’ people who are not part of their rally to avoid this city as they might be ‘inconvenienced’. A third grouping is also trumpeting that their ‘Promenade’ rally would be the biggest. They declare that they will gather enough strength at this rally to take over the Government. Even the Party that propagates itself as a Workers’ Party is following suit. The irony is that all of them refer to it as their "Maiy Raliya" or May Rally. Nothing mentioned about workers. There was some mention of ‘workers’ when one party ‘removed’ leaders (or organizers) in some areas. Answering questions from reporters, the General Secretary of this party stated that they needed people who ‘worked’ for them ‘as instructed’. A veritable ‘toe the line’ (bring the crowds) or get booted.

At what cost to the worker who is the theoretical hero of this ‘carnival’? One way of looking at it is that the "worker" gets a holiday. He can relax at home with his family and enjoy a well earned rest, away from the hustle and bustle of his workplace. He also has the option of taking an all-expenses-paid trip to the "Rallying" point of whichever party he chooses – free bus ride, free meals with booze included. Bribery? Corruption? Don’t be silly – we are only supporting our ‘supporters’! Just for kicks, I’ll work out an estimation of the numbers. Since crowds are being ‘drawn’ from all over the island, I would estimate that each bus would average around 10,000/-. If one party utilizes 2,000 buses, the other would not enjoy the prospect of playing second fiddle – they would also ‘commission’ at least 1,000 buses. I’ll put the ‘Promenade’ Rallyers as utilizing 500 buses and the Reds at 250 buses. Do we have 3,750 buses on our roads? Whatever they claim to attract, let’s estimate 100,000 each for 2 rallies and 75,000 each for the other rallies – a total of 350,000 to make up the ‘crowd’. The Rupees and Cents that go to buy this support is what matters. ·

3,750 buses @ an average of 2,000/-each 75,000,000

350,000 Lunch Packets @ average 150/- each - 52,500,000.00

150,000 packs of snacks/cool drinks @ 150/ (minimum) - 22,500,000.00

At least 50,000 bottles of Arrack @ 1,200/- each - 60,000,000.00 100,000 T-shirts/shirts/caps etc @ 500/- each average - 50,000.000.00 10,000 posters/cutouts/banners/hoardings @ 1,000/- average – 10,000,000.00

That’s 232,500,000/- for starters.

Stir in the costs involved in decorating the venue and the roads leading to the venue, erecting the Stage/Platform, hiring of chairs, sound and large screen TV. For ‘dressing’ you can add the costs of helicopters, SUVs, security and other expenses. MAYDAY!

The next question is whose money is spent on all of this? One party stalwart announced that his Leader had given specific instructions that State Funds or facilities should not be used for the Rally. Others would naturally opt for a clean slate. For the helicopters, SUVs and security, we will pay; willingly, grudgingly or in any which way we have to.

While the economy is sending out distress signals in the form of MAYDAY, MAYDAY, our politicians are having a field day. Just like I watched on a recent TV program, the only "Workers" involved at these May rallies are those who put up the stage, transport and arrange chairs/decorations and those who clean up after the event.

My greetings to all workers on this International Workers’ Day. And a bit of advice – give up your job and become a politician!

Reggie Ponnampalam

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