If you think by hanging us you can stamp out the Labour Movement the movement from which the down-trodden millions the millions who toil in want and misery, expect salvation. If this is your opinion, then hang us, Here you will tread upon a spark, but here and there, behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames blaze up. It is a subterranean fire that you cannot put out with all the seeming invincible powers at your disposal- AugustusSpiof, leader of the Labour Movement charged for the killing of policemen at Hay Market protest and one of four convicted for murder and hung.
As workers all over the world celebrate international workers’ day for this year, there could be no time more auspicious for us to reminisce and reflect on how we have fared so far in the historic social struggle for those who produce the wealth of nations and individual capitalist to also have a clear voice in how the sharing of the pudding goes. This necessarily reminds us of Karl Max declaration of ‘generational struggle of classes, whereby one class tends to dominate and juxtapose itself with another class. It is also a stark reminder of the working class consciousness of the class nature in production, distribution and domestication of wealth amongst wealthy nations and individuals. This awareness clearly strikes at the very chord of labour solidarity and why a veritable trade union organization must not only symbolize its bias for proletariat class struggle but must at all times reflect its ideology of socialist’ restructuring of society and its means of economic production.
In appreciating the intrinsic dynamics, we trace the advent of organized labour movement to the efforts of certain workers in Canada and United States of America (USA) who held peaceful strikes and rallies to demand an eight hour work day and other improvements in their working conditions. Barely two days after commencement of the rallies, Chicago Police killed several demonstrators at a clash between workers and scabs hired by the capital owners against the protesting workers in that city. A rally that was subsequently held in Hay Market square to protest the killing was forcibly interrupted by the police, a bomb was thrown and several policemen were killed while dozens in the crowd were injured.
It is instructive that though none of the eight Labour leaders arraigned after the unfortunate Hay market incident threw bombs, the eight leaders of the Chicago workers’ movement were convicted of culpable homicide and while four were to be hanged, one died in prison custody while three were given life imprisonment, but were later amnestied and given freedom. It was in commemoration of these gallant leaders of the first notable organized labour movement and struggle of all workers for better conditions in history, that May 1 was declared an eight-hour holiday in 1889, by the International Workers’ Congress in Paris. May 1 is also celebrated as the traditional European Spring holiday of May Day, thus making it a national public holiday in more than 80 countries, but only in some of those countries is the public holiday officially known as Labour Day or some similar variant. In the other countries, the public holiday marks the spring festival of May Day.
By laterally adopting the first Monday of September of every year as Workers’ Day, the gamut of bourgeoisie and entire ruling class in America tried to downplay the event of Hay market and thus in 1894, it was established as a federal holiday by US President Grover Cleveland to support the Labour Day that the Knights and American Cowboys favored. And in 1955, the Catholic Church dedicated May 1 to Saint Joseph, the worker Saint, who for the Church, is the patron Saint of workers and craftsmen, thus underlining the symbiosis between society, the church and the state (government and its apparatus).
Just as May 1 was chosen as the date for International Workers’ Day by the Socialists and Communists of the Second International to commemorate the Hay market affair in Chicago that occurred on May 4, 1886, the date was first declared by the People’s Redemption Party (PRP) Government of Kano State in 1980 under Governor Balarabe Musa and became a national holiday in Nigeria on May 1, 1981. This year, the theme for the International Workers’ Day has been tagged, ‘All People Matter’ to underscore the commonality in our humanity while Joint Action Front, a coalition between Civil Society and Labour in Nigeria has declared it a National Day of protest against commercialization of Education in Lagos State and elsewhere in Nigeria where education is being priced out of the reach of the ordinary Nigerians whom the governments still find it difficult to pay eighteen thousand minimum wage and a declaration against kidnapping of girl-child by insurgents and government’s lackadaisical approach to many national concerns.
The role of organisedlabour in the emergence of Nigeria as a Nation-state cannot be over emphasized, from the days of the railway workers under Pa Imodu. In contemporary Nigeria history cum democracy, the names of Comrades Frank Kokori, AyodeleAkele, Comrade (Senator) UcheChukwumeraje, Senator Femi Kila, Venerable FolorunsoOginni, BabatundeOgun, AdegboyegaOtunuga, Sowore and Malcolm Fabiyi of NANS to mention but a few. However today, inspite of the multi-facet sacrifices to enthrone a “government of the people, for the people and by the people’, – Democracy. Leaders of organisedlabour are being held to a large extent responsible for the arrested development the Federal Republic of Nigeria as Thabo Mbeki a former president of South Africa was widely quoted.
As workers, first and foremost, and as members of the international solidarity of labour movement, the occasion calls for serious reflection on our struggles to make ends’ meet and evolve a workable Model for nation building. This would require a collective resolve to discard our opportunistic past by appreciating the fact of the class struggle that necessitated the May Day in the first instance, This, without doubt, is a struggle for survival and betterment of the Working class, the same class that not only produces the wealth, but serves as a major pedestal for building the Empire the Capitalists call their nation and their own world.
It is only a revival of this consciousness that could lead to a responsible labour leadership that refuses to trade the workers’ workplace interest and cognate collective interest away. This becomes vital when viewed against the backdrop of dangers and deficiencies suffered by an average Nigerian worker in an environment devoid of social security arrangement, lack of basic social infrastructure and responsible leadership that accounts for performance as a correlation between the national economy and people’s real living standard. Only within this mix shall we justify the optimism for the triumph of labour over capital as expressed by the about-to-be-hanged Labour leader cited at the start of this piece.
Muhammed Seyi Gambo is the public relations officer of PENGASSAN