In the chronicle of labour movement, the Haymarket affairs of the first few heady days of May 1886 in Chicago have the pre-eminence unrivalled by any subsequent workers' demonstration. It is for the first time that the peaceful rally brought out on May 4 in support of workers striking for eight-hour work day and in protest against killing of eight workers turned into a bloody battlefield where nine policemen and three civilians were left dead. The event of Haymarket has forever changed the owner-worker relations not only in the United States of America but also the world over. It pioneered the establishment of workers' rights and still serves as the fountainhead of labour struggle for their emancipation from all kinds of oppression and injustice.
Ironically, the influence and significance of this milestone event have lost much of their appeal to the Americans. The May Day is not even commemorated in that country as it is done in the rest of the world. With the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the workers' rights have suffered a setback, no doubt. In many countries, including Bangladesh, the observance of the day has become more ritualistic than substantial in range and scope. In a free-market economy, demand and supply usually decide the fate of the working class. No wonder, the world today is tottering on the overwhelming imbalance of wealth distribution where one per cent of the world's population has to its disposal 99 per cent of global wealth. Today, workers in most places suffer silently.
A leading think tank of the country, the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) has worked out that the portion of basic wage in the new pay package for the RMG workers has dropped to 51 per cent of the total compared with those of 56.6 per cent in 2013 and 60 per cent in 2010. In short, the CPD has found that the wage for RMG workers is inadequate compared to their production. If the industrial sector garnering the largest volume of foreign exchange can continue to deprive workers of their due and virtually operate without allowing trade unions, the situations in the rest of the private sectors, particularly in the informal sector, beggar description. The RMG is, moreover, a sector where foreign buyers' platform can transform it for the better by just raising prices of apparels by a few cents.
An objective and dispassionate analysis would indicate that the conditions of workers can be improved to a decent level if investment is made judiciously and profits shared rationally between investors and workers. There is no reason why the rate of growth of the ultra-rich in Bangladesh is surpassing that of anywhere in the world. Now that the automotive, robotic and AI technology is on a relentless march, the bargaining capacity of workers is likely to shrink further. Loss of jobs will stare in their faces. Still one must hope for a turnaround and count on good sense of mankind. The undying spirit of the May Day should guide human soul forever.
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