The US and Canada celebrated their labor day this week on September 6.
It is an established practice in both these countries to celebrate labor day on the first Monday of September every year.
In Australia, different states celebrate this on different dates, with some celebrating it in March, some in May, and some in October. In New Zealand, this is celebrated in October.
In over 80 countries, including India, labor day is celebrated on May 1, which is also officially international workers' day.
The spirit behind it, when it started, was to unite the workers' world over in their demand for more rights, including an eight-hour day. One of the reasons to choose this date because a general strike in the US that began on May 1, 1886, and culminated in the Haymarket riots in Chicago on May 4. This strike became a symbol of the international struggle for workers' rights.
One cannot dispute the need to have a separate day or a date to call out the importance of workers and laborers in the national scheme of things.
However, it is important to balance the national and global dimensions of this conversation.
Yes, we need to celebrate the importance of workers and labor and labor rights and choose a specific day for it.
However, celebrating it on May 1 because the Socialist and Communist organisations in other countries do so is not a good enough reason.
In fact, it is a good reason why NOT to do so.
One can think of 3 reasons why we should consciously choose a different date than May 1 to celebrate the cause of labors and workers (“shramik” or “kamgar”).
One, we can send a message that the cause of labor and workers is not a monopoly of socialist and communist organisations.
While the date of May 1 was chosen by the Marxist and International Socialist Congress that met in Paris in 1889, an acceptance of that date is giving an agency to the socialist and communist organisations that they no longer deserve, especially as the communist parties and socialist parties are on a backseat globally.
One of the reasons the US has chosen this date in September is that it wants to dissociate the cause with the international socialist and communist movement.
Two – This can be an opportunity to link the cause to Indian ethos and Indian value system and a day that the Indian masses can relate to.
It is impossible for an average worker to relate to an announcement made in 1889 in Paris by a Europe centric organisation more than 100 years back.
We celebrate Vishwakarma Jayanti in September every year (in 2021, it will be celebrated on September 17). Architects, engineers, as well as skilled labourers, including mechanics, factory workers, smiths, welders, industrial workers and craftsmen, celebrate this day every year.
Vishvakarma was the son of Shri Brahma, the creator of the world. He is credited for constructing holy cities like Dwaraka, Indraprastha and created many tools and weapons for Gods. He is credited with the promulgation of the Sthapatya Veda, the science of mechanics and architecture. According to Sthapatya Veda, craft consists of art, skill, craft, labor, ingenuity, rite, ritual, form, and creation. The descendants of Vishvakarma are classified into five sections depending on the material with which they work, namely brass workers, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, carpenters and sculptors.
Anti Hindutva folks or those who see evil in everything associated with Hindu thought may not identify with this, so we can choose another date which everyone can relate to.
As an example, we do have Guru Purnima that is celebrated in July, according to the Hindu calendar, but we chose to officially celebrate September 5 as Teachers' day, which was the birthday of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.
Three – This can be a trigger to cause meaningful changes to further the cause of worker and labor upliftment through new and important initiatives.
The day comes and passes every year without any significant development other than platitudes being mouthed by labor unions and the government towards the cause of labor.
Most folks use this day to plan their vacation and hardly bother about the significance of labor day.
It is rare to see any specific initiatives or celebrations either by the Govt or the worker unions on this day, either in the US or Canada or in India.
Changing the date to a new date and linking it to the beginning of new initiatives can trigger an alignment of latent human energy today and help the cause of labor and workers in the country genuinely.
As an example, radio has always been available to the government. However, the effective use of “Man Ki Baat” by the PM to connect with the Indian populace regularly has had a powerful impact on the populace and the government, not to speak of the image of PM.
Moving labor day along with the launch of meaningful initiatives can have a similar impact.
This might seem like a non-issue or a needless distraction when India is faced with so many important battles.
However, the choice of national days and holidays is a decision that impacts everyone and has a subtle impact on the national consciousness in the long term.
A specific day that marshalls the human energies of all the working populace in the country has a huge significance and can be channelised in many ways productively.
The BJP government has taken several decisions that break with the past practices in the spirit of building a “new India”.
This includes renaming roads and cities, sometimes creating new memorials like the Sardar Patel statue, or getting the UN to agree on celebrating an international Yoga day.
Choosing a different date for Labor day, aligning it with Indian ethos and values, and delinking it from May 1 is another such decision that could make a difference in many ways.
It will express India’s identity and ability to think for itself (and not copy the USSR or USA for choosing moments of national celebration).
This can be and will be one more brick in the ongoing exercise of nation-building.
(The writer is an IT leader based in Canada. He writes regularly on business, technology and socio political affairs for various magazines and online portals)