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Observing May Day in post-pandemic times

| Updated: May 11, 2022 21:30:00


Workers at a rally in Dhaka on May 1, 2018 to observe the historic May Day. 	—bdnews24.com Photo Workers at a rally in Dhaka on May 1, 2018 to observe the historic May Day. —bdnews24.com Photo

Like many global celebrations, the May Day jubilations in the last two years (2020-2022) remained suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. At the height of the pandemic's ferocity, repeated lockdowns and movement restrictions had made the lives of the general people with fixed income veritably miserable. Spanning from the affluent European countries to the US and onward to Australia, the world had to put up with the pandemic impacts. Yet these nations were compelled to introduce emergency social welfare schemes, provide the unemployed with monetary incentives and take up programmes to save people from becoming homeless. In the developing and poorer countries the pandemic-time sufferings stemmed from a lack of sources of income. Apart from the governments' inability to keep people fed while confined to home for shutdowns, there were other shortcomings. Due to their being poor and not properly literate, these people couldn't manage online access to jobs. The people, especially the underprivileged without income, veritably hit the rock-bottom in socio-economic contexts. The physical labourers comprised a large segment of these people. They lived in the cities in particular.

Being a nation aimed at full LDC graduation, Bangladesh had, woefully, emerged as one of the countries badly affected by the corona pandemic. Of the total population, it had found itself burdened with a large number of jobless people, many going half-fed. On the first May Day in the countries after becoming apparently fully-free of the 2-year pandemic, a vital question arises. How much they could come to the help of the working class. Have these people felt being left in the lurch due to the near-closure of their factories or other income generating sectors? With Bangladesh projected as having reached a no- Covid 19-fatality stage now, pandemic watchers might feel eager to take an in-depth look at the country's novel corona situation. Media reports have it that newer variants of the pandemic are poised to make assaults on the vulnerable cities and countries. One of them is Shanghai in China. The two newly new mutants belong to the Omicron mother virus.

 The labour welfare measures and helping the workers tide over their difficulties are the two most critical imperatives for Bangladesh. As a member of International Labour Organisation (ILO), the country has to abide by the labour safety rules involving those covering industrial labour and those related to child toiling. When it comes to the spirit born in Chicago's Hay Market's blood-stained outburst in early May in 1886, and the official declaration of May Day celebration in Paris on May 1 in 1890, it was the workers' interest which attracted the focus of the world. It was no small achievement. That of all industrial cities, it was Paris, the birthplace of the French Revolution in 1789, which had been chosen as the venue of announcing the annual 'Workers Day of International Unity and Solidarity` on every May 1 speaks volumes of the workers' future unity and camaraderie. When it comes to the quintessential message of the May Day, it turns out to be keeping aloft the global labour interests again and again.

The 2-year hiatus prompted by Covid-19 should also be kept in perspective. That how much successfully, or otherwise, a developing status-aspirant country like Bangladesh could attend to the needs of its labour force cannot be skirted as a fast-assertive nation. The country should have few reasons to feel worried. Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic's global nature, few countries can manage to escape scrutiny.

On the eve of the coming May Day, the salient features set to be under review include workers' safety in the new normal world, as well as a fulfilling life in the post-pandemic times. Taking cue from the history of the modern labour movements, labour rights activists can safely be unanimous on one point: In the one and thirty-two years, the spirit of the labour forces to remain united against all machinations hatched by the industry owners reigned supreme over all social imperatives. Society, its community-based norms and economic preferences keep changing. In accordance with the inevitable dictate of science, mechanisation and online platforms entered the scene as remedies to cumbersome and heavy workloads. This is what happened with the introduction of steamships and aeroplanes replacing the traditional modes of transport. It was implied that the physical workers would show their hostility towards the technical revolution sweeping the world. This malaise has already begun creeping into the vast industrial belts across the world.

The pandemic times have already demonstrated the redundancy of prerequisites like permanent work-places, working hours, leaves etc. Countries both developed and developing have started adapting to this style of work-from-home. It keeps gaining speed with the detection of newer Covid-19 viruses.

A vital section of the May Day charter of demands was a hazard-free work atmosphere. The labourers wanted the working time to be at eight hours. The work time had been almost infinite and without noticeable respite all along. All this workplace reality is poised to undergo a radical change. Given the wide scope for working at will, either at a stretch or with breaks, working from home online favours the young mothers. Apart from performing domestic work, the young mothers doing office from home can take care of their small children or breastfeed their babies. This makes jobs attractive. In both rich and Third World countries, privately run workplaces allowed their male executives to do office online during the pandemic. Many offices have retained the system as it saves electricity and charges spent on many utility services. There are also grim prospects, though, when it comes to factory jobs. In resorting to digitisation, many massive factories might turn to the practice of declaring workers redundant. This will draw the ire of the labour rights activists. To them retrenching workers, no matter with whatever large volume of compensation packages, certainly goes against the May Day message.

A similar adversity was seen during the post-Industrial Revolution stage in the 18th-19th centuries. The industrial belts may have to brace for another chaotic times after the introduction of computerised devices. The affluent countries can cope with the adverse situation. They have the money and means to pick the interested manual workers to provide them with on-the-job online training. This replacement is, however, feared to remain elusive to industries in the poorer countries. Given this reality, a cloud of deja vu appears to have started looming over the online-based yet traditional industries like the one seen during the Europe's industrial transition, i.e. Industrial Revolution. To their relief, the labour force in the poorer countries like Bangladesh has still enough time to prepare themselves before their factories fully switch over to industrial digitisation.

 Coming to doing online office at home might become a dominant feature in the near future. Ironically, few places could be more convenient as a workplace than a fully equipped office. The musings about attending office-cum-home point to favourable times awaiting the white-collar employees. The blue-collar workers might find themselves in the limbo in the first phase of the online switch-over. However, under the pressure of time or that of the workplace managements, blue-collar workers turning to online modes of work may not seem that absurd in the coming days. Theoretically speaking, vis-à-vis the workers' strength derived from the May Day resolve, worldwide regional wars, creation of new trade blocs for national interest, climate change impacts have all started redefining the roles for the workers in the 'new normal' world. The workers' dominance in both ex-socialist and present left-leaning countries as well as the unflinchingly avowed market economies keeps diminishing. Against this backdrop, the proponents of a completely new worker-friendly world sans bellicosity may not prove fully wrong.

 

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