By Harounor Rashid in Britain:
1 May 2015
TODAY around the world people will be marking May Day in a variety of ways, in honour of the four workers killed at a demonstration in Chicago’s Haymarket Square in 1886.
The protesters were making a simple demand — they wanted an eight-hour working day, something which now seems normal in many parts of the Western world.
Yet today’s events are about more than just nostalgia.
The continued relevance of the fight initiated by the workers in Chicago revolves around the working conditions of workers today.
Arguing for an eight-hour working day has been simply replaced by the fight over the abolition of zero-hours contracts that are slowly becoming the new norm in Britain.
The conditions of work that so agitated the early trade unionists are still reflected in the call centres in Europe and many less developed countries.
If we look at the health and safety conditions of workers in countries outside Europe we note with horror the neglect and exploitative conditions that led to the tragedy of Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
April 24 was the second anniversary of the appalling human catastrophe that claimed 1,134 lives. The struggle initiated in Haymarket is still so necessary and important to mobilise the female garment workers in Bangladesh in their struggle for a liveable wage and better working conditions in terms of health and safety.
So it is fitting that we are initiating an annual event to celebrate May Day in Tower Hamlets in Altab Ali Park. This part of London has traditionally been the first port of call and a home for immigrants from all over the world.
Here resides the largest number of the Bangladeshi diaspora.
The park in this area is named in honour of a Bangladeshi textile worker Altab Ali who was brutally murdered by the fascist thugs of the British National Party in 1978.
The struggle around race and class unleashed the biggest demonstration of the Bengali community and the Tower Hamlets Trades Council in their protest march to 10 Downing Street carrying an empty coffin.
A few minutes’ walk from the park is Cable Street, the site of the famous mobilisation to stop Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirt fascists in 1936.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Cable Street battle in 2011 the Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets co-ordinated a rally and march with the Communist Party of Britain and trade unionists.
The link between the past and the present from Cable Street to the death of Altab Ali continues in the form of the struggle today against the EDL in the streets of Tower Hamlets.
May Day 2015 is also an occasion to reflect again on the links between the traditions of working-class struggles in Tower Hamlets with the fight waged by workers in Bangladesh.
It is to recognise the bonds between the struggle of women workers of Bryant & May Factory in Bow in 1888 with the 21st-century struggles of female Bangladeshi workers in Dhaka.
It is to remind ourselves that workers in Bow who rebelled against the appalling working conditions and poor pay are once again relevant as we see in what has happened two years after the collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013.
Even two years after the collapse, factories are still being allowed to be built without site visits or adequate monitoring.
Only 5 per cent of the workforce is unionised and improvement of working conditions is proceeding at a snail’s pace.
The relevance of the Bryant & May workers and the struggle of dockers in Tower Hamlets is still significant. It is important for the Bengali community united with the trade union movement and progressive forces to show solidarity.
The struggle of workers is worldwide and unites the majority of humanity. Let us initiate this annual event by proclaiming loud and clear — we are the 99 per cent.
Harounor Rashid is a member of the executive committee of Communist Party of Bangladesh (UK Unit) and chair of Udicihi Shilpi Goshti in Britain.
The May Day rally and a short cultural function will be held at Altab Ali Park, Adler Street, Whitechapel, London E1. Nearest Tube, Aldgate.
The tradition of May Day was in fact invented by the Second International at its meeting in 1889. The idea was to mark the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in the US, where police shot down demonstrators. This may have been in the minds of those who gathered for the first London May Day protests the following year. But the mobilising motif here was the fight for the legal eight-hour day: here.