ISSN 2330-717X

Post-May Day Thoughts: Need To Distinguish Between Organized And Unorganized Classes – OpEd


For over one hundred years, the world has been celebrating May 1 as Labor Day, hailing the historical struggle of workers against oppression and suppression. The question is as to whether this May Day only has anymore a historical relevance, as the fortunes of labor have vastly improved.

Several governments continue to declare May 1 as national holiday, even as many employees relax at home or at leisure outfits, enjoying the holiday. Obviously, many governments dare not cancel the May 1 holiday, despite the fact that May Day is only now a remembrance day and does not seem to have much relevance in the present context, where the original objectives of the labor movement have largely been achieved. Governments seem to think that the cancellation of the May 1 holiday would get them branded as anti-labor and therefore, continue the practice.

Should white collar employees be deemed as working class?

In the last several decades, the status and image of the working class has undergone a sea change for the better.

Today, we find that White Collar employees living in comfort with high salaries and perks, and they also call themselves as working men and demand trade union rights, distorting the original image of a worker as doing hard physical labor, without commensurate compensation and as a suffering entity for whom justice had been denied. Additionally, White Collar employees insist that they are participants in the labor movement, though many discerning observers think that this is an unacceptable claim.

The fact is that with automation and computerization many of the labor intensive jobs have been replaced by machines with the White Collar employees only operating a button or keyboard while sitting in a comfortable ambience, without much physical labor. Can they claim to also have the same image, as the working men as described by the original initiators of the labor movement in the world?

It is high time that one should have the courage to question the wisdom of calling White Collar employees and those operating machines with remote controls and enjoying fat salaries as working men and call the bluff on their claims that they represent the working class.

Organised vis a vis unorganized class

With the labor laws around the world becoming more civilized and liberal, the rights of the organized class of employees are now highly protected and safeguarded. The right to strike given to them ensures that their voice does not go unheard and the employer cannot have whimsical ways in dealing with them. The ground reality is that such rights are now being enjoyed by those who are not in economically distress situations or defenceless positions.

Many people believe that the organized class sometimes has become an exploitative class, keeping their narrow interests in view and resorting to strikes and agitations in the name of exercising their trade union rights and demanding a bigger share in the income of the country or enterprise, totally unmindful of the needs of those who live in less fortunate conditions.

Today’s organized class that claims that they reflect the spirit of May Day can be clearly seen as an anachronism.

Let May Day be for unorganized class

There is need to distinguish between the organized class and unorganized class of employees and highlight the fact that spirit of May Day has relevance now only for the unorganized class, whose rights are still not adequately protected. It is necessary to fix the minimum income levels and define the nature of the work for any group to lay claims as work men .

These May Day thoughts should make everyone think about the changing scenario and strive to create a new definition for labor.

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N. S. Venkataraman

N. S. Venkataraman is a trustee with the "Nandini Voice for the Deprived," a not-for-profit organization that aims to highlight the problems of downtrodden and deprived people and support their cause. To promote probity and ethical values in private and public life and to deliberate on socio-economic issues in a dispassionate and objective manner.

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