Every year May makes its recurrence with a red flower, which bloomed out of the blood of repressed working mob more than one century ago. The bloody scent of the flower spread from Chicago to all states and it crossed the Atlantic and the Pacific. On the wings of wild wind it reached every nook and corner of the world, with an urge for creating a congenial atmosphere for the laborers. The red flower is the symbol of protest against exploitation. It infuses courage into soul to burn like fire in the face of blood-sucking ploy of the ruthless wealth-gatherers. May Day is the time when the flower sheds blood from its petals only to remind us of the pangs and pains of toiling, reminds us of the contributions of the manufacturing minds and hands to the creation of civilization.
We often get oblivious of the fact that any kind of production is possible only for labor. Capital, land and entrepreneurship are important, but not more so as labor. It is this force which transforms any raw material into a finished product, or makes any production or creation process complete with fruition. The modern world has been shaped up by labor, so to say. Buildings, roads, railways, embankments, vehicles, whatever manmade we see around, all are the direct outcomes of labor. Tools in the two hands of workers are the agents of change and value addition. Labor, manual and intellectual, are there to create comforts for human life, making heaven on earth. Labor can be trained and skilled, more capable of production. In the age of industrialization, skilled labor is required more than anything, to function in the assembly line and fill the stores, for our consumption and satisfaction.
Labor not only caters for our comforts, but also meets up our basic needs. Who grow grains for us? The labor in agriculture. The grains are supplied to market for sale. Some grains are processed in industry and we find foods in coveted forms and tastes. Farmers work day and night, preparing soil, planting seeds and saplings, irrigating, and caring with fertilizer and insecticide, to reach the level of a good yield. We do not see their sweat; we only see the golden harvest. We do not notice the tears behind their smiling faces; we do not hear the sighs under their singing voice. They burn in the scorching sun as they drench in rains. They are devastated by drought, flood and storm. But they struggle and fight. They face the odds with their last strength. They are beaten and they stand again. They never give us and leave up. They serve the humanity. Without their service, all will starve to death.
But what are the rewards for the industrial and agricultural workers? They are only exploited. Exploited by the rich, the employers, the bourgeoisie. They are being exploited in factories and offices, in fields and houses, in roads and ports. They are put to extra work for elongated period and they are not given their dues. Sometimes the situation sets a resemblance with the diamond mining in Hirok Rajar Deshey where workers undergo back-breaking labor and any kind of complaint results in severe punishment including 'mogoj dholai' inside the 'jantarmantar ghar'. They are deceived in whatever way possible. The workers cannot withdraw themselves from work as they have to make ends meet. It is not the issue of luxury; it is the question of survival for them. They are afraid of losing job so they cling to it despite all injustice. Their right to trade union is denied and they cannot do anything.
In many cases there exists a lack of safety measures where they work. This is particularly true for RMG industry. Therefore accidents often take place from small to massive scale. One example of such big accident is the collapse of Rana Plaza in Savar on 24 April 2013 where more than 1100 people died and many more were injured. It is the biggest human catastrophe in the industrial history of Bangladesh. It shook the whole world and since then safety issue of the workers came to the fore. But workers still work in the torture cell-like buildings with narrow exit passage of garment factories. They are treated in inhuman way. Their remuneration is low and their overtime and bonus are not regularly paid. There is no insurance policy and after accident a meager amount of money is given out to the injured and the relatives of the deceased. Life and labor is so cheap here. Trauma haunts the survivors, who are not properly treated and taken care of, let alone rehabilitated. The foreign exchange earners are only losers!
Female workers are especially vulnerable in our society. They are often discriminated and low paid in comparison with their male counterparts. They face harassment in the streets and workplace. Domestic labor exploitation is no less regrettable. The maids, coming from very poor backgrounds, are regularly tortured, sexually abused and sometimes killed. Currently there are no rules and regulations regarding domestic use of labor in the country. A kind of jungle law is prevailing here. The maids work just for the minimum daily meals. They rise early in the morning and go to bed (in utterly uncomfortable setting) late, after finishing all 'dirt work' (in kitchen and bathroom). They cook, wash clothes, clean floors, and in lieu they are given the meanest food. If they make any mistake, their limbs are burnt with hot utensils. They bear everything as they have nowhere to go. Sometimes they run out of 'domestic detention' to become the news in the media. The cruel family employers face the music and then all are quiet. Without a sound legislation in the country, continuous domestic violence cannot be stopped.
Carl Marx dreamed of a world devoid of labor exploitation. He witnessed the bad effects of industrial revolution and wanted to empower the downtrodden mass whom he called the proletariat. According to his conviction, the workers would be the owners of production and their representatives would be the rulers. There will be no rich against poor or any special privilege for anybody. All will be equal and have equal shares of the wealth of the nation. But his dream was not fulfilled. Human beings have their narrow aspirations, i.e. they want to have command over greater chunk of wealth and consume more than others. Therefore classless society was never established and equality was never attained. The socialist order collapsed which was probably inevitable. The lust for materials and endless consumerism won. The great days of communist parties are gone. Now though there is labor law, it is often violated in favor of the owners of businesses. Driven by the motto of maximizing profits and strengthened by ubiquitous globalization, the industrialists love to exploit labor. Who can deter them? Neither individual nor the state. The sad situation makes the red May flower redder.
May Day has a lofty ideal. It pledges to eradicate all forms of labor exploitation from society. It wants to end discrimination against female workers. It urges to pay dues to the sweat-shedders as they deserve. Businesses must be bound by legislation ensuring justice to workers. The hand of law must be long enough to apprehend the labor exploiters, however powerful they may be. In the May Day only slogans and processions will not suffice. Meetings and speeches must be directed towards labor welfare, not in paper but in action. The dignity of the key force of production must be realized and upheld. The red flower of May will cease to bleed when labor exploitation will come to an end altogether.
The writer is Director, Daffodil Institute of Languages (DIL) and Associate Professor, Department of English, Daffodil International University.
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