Saturday April 13, 2024

Labour Day reflections

By Amanat Ali Chaudhry
May 08, 2017

May 1 – a day celebrated the world over to acknowledge and celebrate the services and contributions of labourers and workers – is generally limited to platitudes and cliches.

Though the International Labour Day revives the memory of the struggle for fundamental rights and sacrifices of the workers in Chicago in 1886, the occasion has become a symbol of celebrating the virtues of hard work and constant struggle that our labourers and workers engage in.

The labour and working classes are our benefactors. They are the ones who keep the engine of an economy running. They invest their efforts and energies into making life better for others. They are the linchpins on which the edifice of our society in general and economy in particular, stands. They work hard so that others can live a comfortable life. They work in the fields in the sizzling heat so that we can have food on our tables.

No discourse on democracy and restoration of fundamental rights is complete without mentioning the role that the trade unions, workers’ bodies and labour movements have played. These segments of society have indeed led the struggle for people’s empowerment and greater democratisation in the economy and politics.

Though mankind has made tremendous progress over the last few centuries and a great deal of improvement has been brought about in different spheres of socioeconomic life, the dream of a harmonious and equitable global economic structure remains unfulfilled.

Though the war between communism and capitalism may have ended in the formal sense, the core conflict persists and rears its head in different shapes. The global economic and political architecture has shown its glaring inability to accommodate those who feel left out. It has failed to provide for their basic necessities of life. Had this not been the case, 3.6 billion poor people on the face of the planet would not exist.

The questions of equality continue to beg for answers. The distribution of resources continues to remain skewed and heavily tilted. The gulf between the haves and the have-nots continues to widen. Of late, the world has borne the brunt of terrorism, extremism and militancy. We have faced rising levels of poverty, unemployment and backwardness. Inequality has not only threatened the fabric of societies but has also hampered the global development agenda.

As the world community looks for answers to the abovementioned questions, it is about time we looked inward and addressed some of the core issues that plague our march towards prosperity and harmony.

The anger of the poor and the working classes has been manifested in numerous ways. In countries where they have an outlet through democratic means, they are upsetting the status quo and uprooting the monarchies. In others, there is a discernible increase in violence, societal strife, lawlessness and chaos.

We can say this without mincing any words that the dream of durable peace, sustainable development and a terror-free world will not be realised unless we include the marginalised and underprivileged communities in the fruits of development.

This calls for an adoption of policies that promote inclusiveness and participation. Let our efforts not be focused on increasing the size of the cake only. We have to make sure that more people around us get to share that cake too.

As the world gets exposed to new and complex dangers that hit at the roots of our societal base, it is time to get real and to understand that a long-term solution to our travails lies in addressing the root causes. If we manage to achieve this, we will benefit future generations and also bring peace and stability in the world.

What is the message of May Day? Simply put, it is about celebrating the hard work people do. It is about teaching our youth and students that there is no substitute of sweating and toiling to achieve individual and collective advancement. Hard work is the stepping-stone of long-lasting prosperity.

Islam gives a special place to those who work hard. Hard work is one of the most important traits of Muslim societies. A person who seeks Allah’s bounty through hard work is highly praised, and for that reason ‘work’ is considered to be a type of worship. The Prophet (pbuh) said: “The believer dies with his sweat on his brow” [An-Nasai].

When nations make hard work their defining national characteristic, nothing can stop them from gaining rightful positions in the comity of nations. The example of our great friend, China, is before us. The emergence of China as the second largest economy and paramount military in the world today is an outcome of decades of hard work of its leadership and people.

How do you measure a society’s moral health? It is by looking at how it treats its vulnerable and marginalised sections of society. A look at the annual World Happiness Index shows that financially well-off societies do not necessarily make it to the top of the index but the ones with less money but more equality do.

In order to fast-track the agenda of the fulfilment of labour rights, it is important for trade unions and labour organisations to make inroad into the political parties with an aim to win their crucial support. As long as they continue to act on the margins, they are less likely to succeed.