The worker’s day
A glance at the history of Sri Lanka’s May Day
The proletariat celebrates May Day with pomp and pageantry every
year. It is the only day the workers of the world irrespective of their
cultural, religious and racial differences throng the streets to demand
the employers to grant their rights.
Workers discuss their problems and showed their unity to employers by
way of May Day processions and rallies every year. May Day infuses in
the minds of working masses that they should be more united to fight the
injustice perpetrated by the employers.
Carrying the burden of the economy on his shoulders. File
The May Day concept emerged 124 years ago with the Haymarket riot in
Chicago where workers agitated to limit their work day’s hours to eight
for which they were killed by hired thugs of employers. They had no
option than a struggle to win their rights and the Haymarket incident
became a turning point of the struggle of the downtrodden.
The International Socialist Conference decided to stop work on May 1,
1894 in remembrance of their brethren who were killed by the capitalist
employers in Chicago. However, May Day was officially recognized in most
parts of the world by 1917.
The USSR declared May 1 and 2 as national holidays after the October
Revolution led by V I Lenin in 1917.
In Sri Lanka, Trade Union activities commenced in 1922 when the first
Association of Workers was formed under the leadership of A E
Goonasinghe. He was the Secretary of All Ceylon Labour Federation while
Victor Corea was its president. May Day was celebrated for the first
time in Sri Lanka by the Federation led by Goonasinghe in 1934.
The first May Day rally organized by the Marxists was held in Sri
Lanka in 1935 on the eve of establishing the Lanka Sama Samaja Party.
During this time a massive strike was held at the Wellawatte Textile
Mills and hundreds of labourers inspired by this strike participated in
Leftist leaders such as N M Perera, Philip Gunawardena, Colvin R de
Silva, A E Goonasinghe pioneered in organizing various events to
celebrate this day in Sri Lanka in the early 1930s. They spread
socialist ideas among Sri Lankans.
N M Perera
A E Goonasinghe
Colvin R de Silva
These leaders played a pivotal role in teaching the people on trade
unionism, anti capitalism and anti feudilism through May Day
The struggle launched by the Rightist leaders in the LSSP and CP
resulted in the declaration of May 1 as a national holiday by the MEP
Government in 1956. The celebration of May Day was first confined to
leftist parties and the capitalist parties began celebrating this event
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party and allied socialist parties celebrated
this day on grand scale. The MEP Government led by Former Prime Minister
S W R D Bandaranaike gave an ear to the problems of the working masses.
His decisions as the Head of the Government brought many relief to the
The May Day celebrations in Sri Lanka deviated from its original
objectives and has become a contention among the political parties to
show their might after the capitalist parties began celebrating this day
from the early 1960s. The Government in 1965 banned the May Day
celebrations and May Day was celebrated in 1969 on April 30 as the Vesak
Full Moon Day fell on May 1, 1969.
It is no longer a day where the problems and obstacles of working
masses are discussed with the politicization of Trade Unions in Sri
Lanka. The UNP Government in 1987 banned the May Day processions and
rallies and LSSP Leader Colvin R de Silva was among the participants who
was brutally attacked by the Police while participating in the May Day
rallies organized by the Communist Party and Lanka Sama Samaja parties.
President Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated by the LTTE while he
was participating in the UNP’s May Day rally in 1993.
[ Day to voice worker’s rights]
* First celebrated – 1934
* Pioneered by – A E Gunasinghe, N M Perera, Phillip Gunawardena,
Colvin R de Silva.
* Declared national holiday – 1956
* First celebrated by – Communist party, Lanka Samasamaja party