June 04, 2023

Weeklong May Day Celebrations in Telangana

S Veeraiah

MAY Day celebrations in Telangana have transformed from mere customary events to occasions that have all-round participation of the working class and the people at large. The special initiatives introduced last year have further enhanced the celebrations this year. It goes without saying that the customary practices, such as adorning decorations with red flags and the attendance of workers at meetings and demonstrations wearing red shirts and sarees on May Day, continue to be observed. These were observed this year as well. The red flag was raised in over 5,000 centers, and 2,499 cultural artists performed in rallies. Workers, peasants, and agricultural labourers collectively commemorated May Day in 284 centres. Furthermore, special programmes were organised with the aim of establishing an alternative culture. The impact of these efforts has been significant, not only on the working class but also on the general public. As a result, local residents now express a desire to celebrate May Day in a similar fashion every year.

One of the notable highlights of May Day celebrations is having a pavilion (mandapam) with a martyrs' column or photographs of the Chicago Martyrs. These special programmes were organised in residential areas of workers, complete with pavilions and other arrangements, allowing the general public to actively participate in the event. The atmosphere was festive, with hundreds of families engaging in weeklong celebrations. The martyrs' pavilions have emerged as sources of inspiration, attracting workers and their families from various political and trade union backgrounds who visited daily to pay tribute to the martyrs. In some places, even middle-class employees participated. Although the initiative was led by CITU, workers from diverse unions and associations, unaffiliated with CITU, willingly joined in the festivities, as we put up plain red flags. Workers took photographs beside the martyrs' column and shared them on social media. Notably, nearly half of the participants in the event held in the Katedan Industrial Area of Rangareddy district were migrant workers.

Various competitions were organised during the May Day celebrations, including cricket, volleyball, badminton, kabaddi, kho kho, musical chairs, rangoli painting, drawing, and singing. These competitions attracted participation from people of all ages, both male and female, who eagerly took part in their preferred events. The winners were rewarded with prizes, mementos, and certificates of appreciation during the concluding ceremony. To ensure smooth execution of these celebrations, committees were established in respective areas comprising colony association leaders, intellectuals, doctors, lawyers, journalists, union leaders, employees, and others. These committees shouldered the responsibility of fundraising and making necessary arrangements.

Each evening, the pavilion hosted cultural programmes such as songs, dances, and mimicry performances, fostering a sense of secularism throughout the week-long festivities. Workers actively engaged in these events, transcending caste, gender, religion, and regional differences. Furthermore, this collective spirit of struggle extended beyond workers themselves, encompassing their spouses and other family members, promoting mutual cooperation. Considering the ongoing efforts by RSS, BJP, and the central government to incite religious animosity among workers, the significance of the attempts made during May Day celebrations to foster unity gains even greater importance.

The prevailing societal hegemony has resulted in a predominantly male presence in the top leadership positions of unions. Consequently, it is customary for the union leader, in his capacity, to unfurl the flag on May Day. However, there has been a notable attempt to challenge this tradition, marking progress towards gender equality. The number of women participating in flag hoisting has significantly increased compared to the previous year. Out of the 185 flag hoisting events organised by CITU in Medchal district, 52 were conducted by women. Similarly, out of the 160 flag unveilings held in Hyderabad, 45 were carried out by women. Overall, 699 women leaders proudly hoisted the red flags. Workers have come to understand that flag unveiling is not a ritualistic act involving offerings, incense sticks, or the distribution of prasadam etc. This understanding has been fostered by emphasizing the importance of the day to the workers. Worshipping the red flag, as if it were a deity, misconstrues its significance. The exploitation of the working class can be ended through their own struggles and collective efforts. The red flag serves as a source of motivation and inspiration in these struggles. May Day serves as an opportunity to renew our commitment to fight under the leadership of the red flag. However, the ruling classes and certain leaders are attempting to dilute this motivation by encouraging the worship of the red flag. Similar efforts have been witnessed in the deification of leaders like Gandhi, who spearheaded the anti-imperialist and freedom movements, as well as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, who fought for the annihilation of the caste system. Such attempts seek to ascribe divinity to these inspiring symbols, ultimately weakening the ongoing struggles. It is crucial to acknowledge that workers resort to worshipping the red flag due to prevalent feudalistic traditions. Therefore, it becomes the responsibility of trade unions to raise consciousness among the working class and empower them to combat such practices. Hence, this aspect holds significant importance.

In certain areas, community lunches were organised at the pavilions, attracting the participation of hundreds of workers and their families. These initiatives have proven effective in combating caste discrimination and promoting awareness among the working class. The act of sharing a meal together, disregarding caste and religious differences, holds particular significance, especially in rural regions. The impact is even more profound when programmes are held in dalit bastis, where the participation of other social classes serves as an inspiration. Additionally, blood donation camps were set up in some locations, and drinking water supply centers (chalivendras) were established. Health camps were organised, offering free medical services, and ambali centers were also set up to serve poor people.

On May Day itself, village organisation assistants (VOAs) under the IKP (Indira Kranthi Patham) scheme in the state initiated a strike. While the VOAs from certain unions in some mandals initially did not join the strike, the influence of the vibrant May Day celebrations brought them together, which proved to be a positive experience. The energetic festivities on International Labor Day garnered the attention not only of the workers but also local leaders representing various political parties, public officials, and government representatives. There were instances where municipal councilors voluntarily attended and participated in the events. Municipal chairpersons and ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) officials were also present during the prize distribution programmes.

The celebrations concluded on a high note, filled with enthusiasm. It has now become a daily practice for workers at certain companies to pay their respects to the martyrs before commencing their work. On the final day, they gathered with portraits and actively joined the main demonstrations. The workers participated in processions, holding large cutouts and photographs of the martyrs, while some even dressed as warriors. The inclusion of various art forms displayed on vehicles served as a great source of inspiration. Working women performed Bathukamma songs and kolatam dances, among other cultural activities. Martyrs' columns and portraits were prominently placed at the forefront of the rallies and were later handed over to the CITU office.

Workers, agricultural labourers, and farmers united in celebrating May Day across several districts. The participation of youth, homemakers, and students was also notable. The unique organisation of May Day festivities has sparked discussions among the public, with some municipal, construction, and transport workers from certain areas deciding to join CITU. The private industrial workers and migrant workers are also showing a growing affinity towards our movement. It is the responsibility of the leadership of the working class and the organised movement to instill greater confidence in them. At present, the ruling classes are attempting to weaken the unity of workers by exploiting differences of caste, religion, and region. To counteract these efforts and strengthen the unity of the working class, it is imperative to intensify our outreach and connect with the entire working class and their families.