April 26, 2024

May Day – too important to ignore

Vincentians will join the rest of the world next Wednesday in enjoying a public holiday like none other.

Some of our holidays, notably Christmas and Easter, are religious based, some like Emancipation, Independence and National Heroes Day, have their origins in the history and struggles of our people, while there are others based on our cultural traditions, as is the case with Carnival.

The holiday next week, International Workers’ Day, more popularly known as May Day, is a unique one. On May 1 every year billions of people all over the world celebrate their bonds as workers of all types, but the class of people who make the world tick and without whom the world as we know it cannot exist. No other class of people in the world is as numerous or as vital and the idea that this is the only holiday of its type, cutting across national boundaries, religions, culture and traditions speaks for itself.

It has not been easy to have such a cross-cutting holiday instituted and the owners of capital fought bitterly to prevent its institution but, in the end, the international working class prevailed, and May Day became part of the global landscape. A lot has changed since it was first instituted but more than a century after its institution, workers whether in Germany, India, Australia, North America or the Caribbean still stage activities to celebrate their gains and boost their struggles.

In our own country, such was the terrible condition of the working people that May Day became an important part of the struggle for decent and humane working and living conditions and for an end to undemocratic colonial rule and the institution of such basic rights as the right to vote. Under the leadership of anti-colonial fighters such as George McIntosh and Ebeneezer Joshua, May Day became a very important day in the life of Vincentian working people to stake their claims for basic human rights. May Day of the 40s, 50s and 60s was characterized by marches and demonstrations even though there was limited transport at the time.

With the institution of Adult Suffrage in 1951, bringing the right to vote, and the organization of party politics in the British two-party model, a new aspect crept into May Day- the political parties using the mobilization of working people to advance their own aims. Over the years the celebration of May Day declined in importance and the day became just another public holiday for recreational purposes. So much so that instead of the global date, May 1, it was shifted on the calendar of many Caribbean countries, including our own, to a convenient “first Monday in May”. It took the institution of the ULP government for the original date to be re-instituted on the demand of the union movement.

But the workers movement is no longer utilising May Day for the original purposes. It should be a day to celebrate the advances that the movement has championed and won for workers over the years; a day to raise important issues still facing workers; a day to let those employers who continue to flout labour regulations such as the minimum wage and conditions of work know that the workers will not tolerate such behaviour: to place emphasis on greater unionisation of workers and above all, to give priority to unity and solidarity in the workers movement. Is that too difficult to do?