May Day Just Another Day?

by Ifham Nizam

A majority of the political parties and trade unions said workers day or May Day which falls tomorrow, is just another day. It is seen as a day for promoting the propaganda of political parties rather than fighting for workers rights.

The origin of May Day is indissolubly bound up with the struggle for the shorter workday – a demand of major political significance for the working class. This struggle is manifest almost from the beginning of the factory system in the United States.

Although the demand for higher wages appears to be the most prevalent cause for the early strikes in this country, the question of shorter hours and the right to organise were always kept in the foreground when workers formulated their demands against the bosses and the government. As exploitation was becoming intensified and workers were feeling more and more the strain of inhumanly long working hours, the demand for an appreciable reduction of hours became more pronounced.

Already at the beginning of the 19th century workers in the United States made known their grievances against working from ‘sunrise to sunset,’ the then prevailing workday. Fourteen, sixteen and even eighteen hours a day were not uncommon. During the conspiracy trial against the leaders of striking cordwainers in 1806, it was brought out that workers were employed as long as nineteen and twenty hours a day.

The twenties and thirties are replete with strikes for reduction of hours of work and definite demands for a 10-hour day were put forward in many industrial centers. The organisation of what is considered as the first trade union in the world, the Mechanics’ Union of Philadelphia, preceding by two years the one formed by workers in England, can be definitely ascribed to a strike of building trade workers in Philadelphia in 1827 for the 10-hour day. During the bakers’ strike in New York in 1834 the Workingmen’s Advocate reported that “journeymen employed in the loaf bread business have for years been suffering worse than Egyptian bondage. They have had to labor on an average of eighteen to twenty hours out of the twenty-four.”

The demand in those localities for a 10-hour day soon grew into a movement, which, although impeded by the crisis of 1837, led the federal government under President Van Buren to decree the 10-hour day for all those employed on government work. The struggle for the universality of the 10-hour day, however, continued during the next decades. No sooner had this demand been secured in a number of industries than the workers began to raise the slogan for an 8-hour day.

The feverish activity in organizing labour unions during the fifties gave this new demand an impetus which, however, was checked by the crisis of 1857. The demand was, however, won in a few well-organised trades before the crisis. That the movement for a shorter workday was not only peculiar to the United States, but was prevalent wherever workers were exploited under the rising capitalist system, can be seen from the fact that even in far away Australia the building trade workers raised the slogan “8 hours work, 8 hours recreation and 8 hours rest” and were successful in securing this demand in 1856.

We spoke to a cross section of society and obtained their opinion on May Day.


Gemunu Wjeratne – Private Bus Owners Association

Now May Day is not for the working class but for the political parties and their sycophants.
Unlike in the past when May Day was celebrated to win the rights of working class but today it is a major platform for all political parties to promote their agendas.
There are no rights to the common man or the working class now.
It is a day for politicians especially to come to power





Tissa Attanayake – Former United National Party General Secretary

It is another day, good to have political meetings. Of course it should be the day to be celebrated especially by the common man but today it is for political parties to stage their s whims and fancies,  to showcase their political will.





Dr. Chandra Embuldeniya Former Vice Chancellor

May Day is celebrated in many countries as an ancient traditional springtime festival in the northern hemisphere. In the east and the south it is an international day honouring workers. Mayday, as a sound, also represents an emergency, particularly used during Second World War.  In Sri Lanka, it is the day honouring workers. Red represented leftism. It is the color of blood and became the symbolic color of May Day, signifying the fact that it had origins in Chicago Haymarket when blood spilled in a capitalist country.

Political parties have hijacked the day to rally voters to show their potential strength to gain election victory. In Sri Lanka, it is a day that people get a free ride with food and drink to participate in rallies and listen to ‘hair raising’ speeches of their political icons.

It is a day that puts immense pressure on security forces to maintain law and order. Sri Lanka being a country struggling to emerge as an economic force, I wish all political parties practice something different than holding their own rallies that divide working people on political lines. Working people represent the human capital of the nation. Human capital should be connected with the development goals and unified in action.

At least on May Day if political leaders come together to motivate and honour the working people of all strata to think ‘country first” we would achieve a great measure of progress in a single day. Progress needs a change of mindset (paradigm shift).

Why I say this is because we have failed in what we did in the past. This includes holding Mayday rallies to divide people. We need to change and change fast. We are repeating history this year as well. So, the outcomes will be no different. I wish at least the leaders standing on different Mayday platforms of green, blue, and red, pass the same message to all people who gather on Mayday – put the country before self.




Udaya Gammanpila – Pivithuru Hela Urumaya

This is the day that people should come in thousands to Galle Face to show solidarity against the regime which had ruined everything, economy sovereignty.

Those patriotic masses should join hands to show the strength of the masses to the government, which would lead to nothing in one year’s time. People must join hands immediately to topple this regime if they want to see a Sri Lanka tomorrow. Those who care about children and grandchildren would understand better where this government is heading for.


Ananda Nimalaratne  - Veteran Trade Union Member

Nothing will happen this time. Trade Unions, leftist parties, Workers rights are all mere words.

There is no Working class now. There was a time where trade unions really capitlised and fought for the rights of working class.

Now, the May Day is for politicians especially for the major parties.  This time nothing will happen for the betterment of the common man or the public.




Sunil de Silva  - Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya

Six resolutions are to be adopted at the UNP May Day rally for the welfare of the working community. A large number of Trade Unions including the Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya would take part in the UNP May Day rally at Campbell Park in Borella.

All our demands made at last year’s May Day rally have been met, including that of increasing public servants’ salary by Rs.10,000. He asked what demands could be gained by staging strikes Those TU actions ended with nothing. Those were just politically motivated agitations,”


1 Comment for “May Day Just Another Day?”

  1. David

    A day of refection of ignorance and also an attitude of fooling the masses by our so called leaders or rightfully the sinners who shamelessly eat in to the resources of the current and many generations to come.

    Be not get fooled my fellow countrymen. Be cautious and think of the future of your children / grand children. Over consumption and waste of resources is one of the greatest sins. Be prepared for the consequences in the hell if failed to make a wise decision at your earliest.

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