Context: May 1 is an occasion that commemorates the contributions of workers and the historic labour movement. It is called May Day, International Workers Day and Labour Day in different parts of the world.

Significance of May Day:

  • It is a celebration of labour and labourers who are the actual creators of the wealth of nations. 
  • It is a day to demonstrate the strength of the working people, the alliance of workers and peasants, unity of the trade unions and labour movements.
  • It is a day to express solidarity, nationally and internationally.

Historical Background:

  • While observed as an ancient northern hemisphere spring festival, May 1 became associated with the labour movement in the late 19th century.
  • The trade unions and socialist groups designated it as a day in support of workers in memory of the Haymarket affair of 1886, in Chicago, U.S.
    • A peaceful rally in support of workers led to a violent clash with the police, leading to the deaths of 4 civilians and 7 police officers.
    • The incident is believed to have given the workers’ movement a great impetus as the U.S soon recognised Labor Day as a federal holiday in 1894,where it continues to be celebrated every year on the first Monday of September. 
    • Soon, Canada also adopted the practice.
  • In 1889, The Second International, an organisation created by socialist and labour parties, declared that May 1 would be commemorated as International Workers’ Day.
  • In 1904, the International Socialist Congress at Amsterdam called on “all Social Democratic Party organisations and trade unions of all countries -
    • To demonstrate on 1st May - 
      • For the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, 
      • For the class demands of the proletariat, and 
      • For universal peace 
    • To stop work on May 1, wherever it is possible without injury to the workers.
  • After the Russian Revolution in 1917, the celebration was embraced by the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc nations during the Cold War– becoming a national holiday in many of them.

Indian Background:

  • Trade union movements started emerging during British and French rule in India. 
  • The jute workers of Calcutta were organised under a trade union in 1854. 
  • The Madras Press Workers Union was formed in 1903 and Coral Mill workers union in 1908. And finally the AITUC (All India Trade Union Congress) was founded in 1920.
  • In India, May Day was first celebrated on May 1, 1923, after the Labour Kisan Party of Hindustan initiated and Comrade Singaravelar (Singaravelu Chettiar) helmed the celebrations. 
    • The party passed a resolution stating the government should allow everybody a national holiday on Labour Day.
  • Role of Ambedkar:
    • As the representative of the Depressed Classes in the Round Table Conference, Ambedkar forcefully pleaded for living wages, decent working conditions and the freedom of peasants from the clutches of cruel landlords.
    • He went on to form the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1936 with a comprehensive programme to meet the needs and grievances of the landless, poor tenants, agriculturists, and workers.
    • As a member of Bombay Legislative assembly in 1937 - 
    • He introduced a bill to abolish the Khoti system of land tenure in Konkan. 
    • He also  opposed the introduction of the Industrial Disputes Bill, 1937 because it removed the workers’ right to strike.
    • As a Labour member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council from 1942 to 1946 , he piloted and introduced measures for labour welfare by laying the foundation for the basic structure for the government’s labour policy.
    • Through the Mines Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill 1943, he empowered women workers with maternity benefits.

Contemporary scenario 

Problems Faced by Labourers during the Lockdown: It has been devastating the lives of people due to mass unemployment, poverty, hunger and despair. 

  • The conditions are worsening as economic inequality grows.
  • The plight of daily wage earners and the migrant labourers is miserable. 
  • Hunger deaths are being reported. Despite the alternatives like online teaching and learning; the poor, homeless, and hungry children do not have access to any such facilities.
  • The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has come out with an alarming report that 40-crore workers in India are at risk of falling deeper into poverty. They are mainly from the informal sector.

Proactive steps taken by Government:

  • The current government has taken steps to improve the quality of life of workers. For example, the Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maan-Dhan Yojna was launched in February 2019 to ensure protection of unorganised workers in their old age. 
  • Through technological interventions like Shram Suvidha Portal, transparency and accountability are ensured in the enforcement of labour law. 
  • The government is working to simplify, amalgamate and rationalise the provisions of the existing central labour laws into four labour codes — 
    • Labour Code on Wages, 
    • Code on Industrial Relations, 
    • Code on Social Security & Welfare and 
    • Code on Occupational Safety, Health & Working Conditions.
  • Finance Minister announced Rs 1.70 Lakh Crore relief package under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana for the poor to help them fight the battle against CoronaVirus. Some of the benefits given under the scheme are -
    • 80 crore poor people will to get 5 kg wheat or rice and 1 kg of preferred pulses for free every month for the next three months
    • 20 crore women Jan Dhan account holders to get Rs 500 per month for next three months
    • Increase in MNREGA wage to Rs 202 a day from Rs 182 to benefit 13.62 crore families
    • An ex-gratia of Rs 1,000 to 3 crore poor senior citizen, poor widows and poor disabled


  • The proposed change in work culture through adaptability, efficiency, inclusiveness, opportunity and universalism will open up more avenues for workers to build New India.
  • On this May Day, while saluting the working people for their historic revolutionary role, we must renew our pledge to make a society free from exploitation, injustice and all forms of discrimination.
  • Let us observe this May Day during the lockdown by reaching out to the needy and vulnerable. 


Khoti System:

  • It originated in the Konkan region during the British Empire. 
  • The hierarchical system was floated by Britishers to collect the tax by granting huge power to a powerful person of a locality which was titled as Khot. 
  • With the time Khots emerged as a powerful and influential middleman who were brutally trained to collect land revenues for the empire. 
  • The cruel nature of Khots made the system highly exploitative that often turned bloody in nature.


International Labour Organisation:

  • It is a United Nations agency whose mandate is to advance social and economic justice through setting international labour standards.
  • It was founded in 1919 under the League of Nations.
  • It is the first and oldest specialised agency of the UN. 
  • The ILO has 187 member states: 186 out of 193 UN member states plus the Cook Islands. 
  • It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, with around 40 field offices around the world.


Image Source: Indian Express