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Saturday, 1 May 2010






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The worker’s day

A glance at the history of Sri Lanka’s May Day celebrations:

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 photo

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 this rally.

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

Philip Gunawardena

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 celebrations.

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 after 1959.

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 workers.

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




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