The May Day

International Labour Day has its own history and significance for J&K



1st May is being celebrated as the  international  day of Labourers. This  day is a commemoration of the historic struggle of the workers throughout the world against capitalism, exploitation, and for safe working conditions and respect for the dignity of workers.
History of the day:
May Day came into being after the successful demand, claims and demonstrations  was carried out under the banner of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labour Unions when it passed a resolution stating that eight hours would constitute a day's work from May 1,1884. The resolution called for a general strike to achieve the demand of eight hours, since legislative methods had failed to address the demand. The Workers during those times  were forced by greedy industrialists and  capitalists to work for  twelve to fourteen hours a day under extreme conditions. Many  workers even died  on duty due to ill health and psychological ailments as even the the medical aid was denied to the workers. During those days the workers or labourers were made to work like animals.  By April 1886 about 280000 workers were involved in the May Day movement which demanded an eight hour work day. The main labour movement was based in US city of Chicago and was organized mainly by the  International Working People's Association (IWPA).  The capitalist forces and the State, were terrified by the formation of a united front of workers that became a mass movement across the entire United States.  On May 3, 1886 the City of Chicago was paralysed by the general strike. The factories,  railway,  and other businesses was forced to close. The police fired indiscriminately into the striking workers  at the McCormick Reaper Works Factory, killing four and wounding many workers. Many more workers were killed by the US police  at Haymarket Square when the workers  has assembled the next day to protest the killing of their colleagues. In its attempt to destroy the significance of May Day, the United States government declared the May 1st as  'Loyalty Day'. 
 Labour Movement in Kashmir :
While  trade union and labour Movements were emerging as mass movements in the west especially in US and Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the poor workers, farmers, labourers  and even common citizens of our state were totally ignorant and unaware of such trade union or Labour activism as they were thrusted upon to undergo the forced labour called “Begaar” by the autocratic rulers of those times. Even if  Kashmiris would have been paid for working for 12 to 14 hours, that would have been a luxury for them  as they were made to work without being paid any wages under the Begaar. The forced labour took  lives of many Kashmiris for many decades  while travelling from Kashmir to Gilgit, Askardu or Ladakh along with the Army personnel of Maharaja’s of Kashmir in the harsh winter conditions and hilly terrain. The poor men were forced to carry heavy loads on their backs and travelled scores of miles daily and at the end of the day were paid nothing.
 Robert Thorpe’s role :
I won’t hesitate to call Robert Thorpe a British born half Kashmiri as the man who initiated trade union or labour activism in Kashmir. Thorpe’s mother was from Khag area of Budgam who was  married to a British Army officer in late 19th Century. The forced labour or Begaar let loose by the autocratic rulers engaged the conscience of Robert who tried to organize the sector, raised voice and publicized the atrocities perpetrated upon the poor labour class having nothing even to live from hand to mouth. He was targeted by the rulers and ruthlessly killed in 1868 near Shankaracharya hill.  Thorpe’s mortal remains are lying in Christian cemetery in Sheikh Bagh Srinagar.   His mission was carried forward by various groups / activists across the state in one shape or the other. The Shaal workers movement is also worthwhile to be mentioned as one of the labour movements in Kashmir
Trade Unionism  post 1947 in J&K :
 After 1947 the labour movement was virtually hijacked by some Kashmiri rulers who used the labour class for perpetuating and strengthening  the family rule. In post 1953 era the rulers in succession used the Kashmiri labour class especially the workers of Silk Factory Solina, Food Supplies and Transport department  as an instrument for entertainment (Band Pather etc) thus side tracking the real issues. But during early 1960’s  the Labour/Trade Union activity gained Momentum which was spearheaded by Abdul Majeed Khan, Sampat Praksah, Abdul Gani Hafiz, Ghulam Qadir Hafroo etc. The movement also gained massive support from veterans like Balraj Puri, Ram Piara Saraf, Krishen Dev Sethi & Ved Bhasin. The first state wide strike of employees and workers was successfully organised in 1967 under the banner of J&K Low Paid Employees Federation which resulted in major crackdown on trade union leaders who were jailed, suspended and even dismissed from Government service.
The political developments of 1975 after Indira – Sheikh accord was massively rebutted by the trade union class alone in Kashmir in consequence of which another crackdown was faced by the veteran trade union leaders including Mohammad Ameen Raja and Sampat Prakash who challenged the genuineness of the 1975 accord re facilitating the family rule. The activism gave birth to various trade union associations at the Departmental level and the Low Paid employees Federation emerged as an apex body of such small organisations.
During the 1989-90  uprising the trade union activity crumbled  and new force emerged in the shape of employees and workers confederation which was spearheaded by Ghulam Hassan Aasmi the Civil Secretariat employees President of that time. Even the officers assembled and joined hands with the confederation and a coordination committee was constituted which was headed by Abdul Hameed Mattoo Chief Engineer. The Committee organised a massive strike upon the dismissal of five  Government officers included Abdul Hameed Mattoo, Naeem Akhtar, A R Mubarki, Muzaffar Khan and Abdul Salam Bhat   which continued for 90 days forcing the Governor administration to reinstate all the dismissed officers. Despite such a brilliant track record of trade unionism in J&K, the Trade Union Movement appears to have been defaced by vested interests whose object is only self service and hypocracy.
The Un-organized labour sector :
There workers in Government sector are well organized in our state but the labourers and workers working in private companies, factories and other un-organized sectors need to get organized to ensure justice. Some groups like J&K Joint Labourers, Masons, Carpenters, Union under the leadership of Bashir Ahmad Najar, Mohamad Ramzan Kralpuri has been working very hard to ensure justice and implementation of various schemes for labourers for since last more than 5 years now but still they have not been able to reach out to this mega labour sector. There is an urgent need to train these groups about the labour rights enshrined under various labour laws so that such groups create awareness about the labour rights and laws among the un organized workers and labourers. 
The author is  RTI & Social Activist. He is the founder of J&K RTI Movement

Lastupdate on : Tue, 30 Apr 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 30 Apr 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 1 May 2013 00:00:00 IST

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