on May 1, 1886, in Chicago, a workers’ strike with a demand for an eight-hour working day gave birth to ‘May Day’ sometimes called Labour Day or the International Workers’ Day. The rioting that ensued, caused the death of some people including police officers; several more were injured. The costly protest did not produce the results expected overnight; but with time it did have an impact and an eight-hour working day became the norm. It seeped into other parts of the world including Sri Lanka and May Day became a special day for protests, rallies, and speeches generally related to the working classes meaning ordinary blue-collar workers employed in industries, offices and government departments. However there was some flexibility in that interpretation.
May Day in Sri Lanka
May Day rallies have been a regular feature in this country when workers and their unions made their voices heard on their needs and aspirations. The authorities were expected to take heed and provide answers to this large section of the population that held the country’s economy aloft in varied ways. To what degree governments reciprocated in negating workers’ shortcomings was another matter. Generally the reciprocations did not make starling headlines but appeared in mitigated forms. However, while May Day rallies in other countries were used by workers to draw the attention of their governments to policy matters concerning health, education, environment, immigration, trade, globalisation and so on, May Day agendas in Sri Lanka have been transformed to a day of political competition. Political parties are using May Day to play power games involving numbers that have turned into measuring gauges as to party popularity and its potential for future political successes. While that contention is open to debate and even ridicule, the politicisation of May Day is fact and patently aimed at influencing impressionable voters of the kind that make statements such as; ‘You should have seen the crowd at the ‘Lokuhamuge Peramuna’ rallys; there was no room even to stand’; “The Pink Party parade was five kilometers long’; ‘200 bus loads had turned up for the ‘Kathuru Party rally’. Imaginative ones; ‘It was sea of blue heads; no ground could be seen’. With this type of political focus, identifying May Day in Sri Lanka as a ‘Workers’ Day’ has become a joke. - See more at: http://www.dailymirror.lk/109211/Lankan-May-Day-front-for-power-displays#sthash.csmBD4nE.dpuf