May 1: Empowering Workers’ Voices across Asia

HANOI — International Workers’ Day, also known as Labor Day or May Day, is a global observance that honors the contributions of workers and their struggle for better working conditions, fair wages, and human rights. While the essence of this day remains consistent across the world, the way it is celebrated varies significantly in different regions. In this article, we delve into Southeast Asia and East Asia to explore the diverse ways in which workers commemorate this important occasion.

Bangladesh: Tea Workers’ Struggle for Dignity

In the lush tea gardens of Bangladesh, workers toil under challenging conditions. Sojol Kairi, a laborer at the Alinagar tea estate, shares his story. Initially promised a house by the plantation owner, Sojol faced an impossible workload and additional painful tasks instead. Tea workers, often residing in company accommodations, grapple with threats of dismissal, eviction, and wage cuts. The struggle for collective bargaining rights, protection, and improved living standards continues, especially in a vital part of the country: the garment industry.

India: The Plight of Home-Based Informal Workers

Sabika, a home-based worker in India, stitches beads and sequins onto apparel. Her meager income, calculated on a piece-rate basis, barely sustains her family. With no fixed working hours or timely payment, Sabika dreams of working directly with the principal employer. A decent wage would allow her to provide better education for her siblings.

Indonesia: Weaving Traditions and Identity

Hermina Ipa Hoy, a weaving artist from East Sumba, Indonesia, proudly displays her indigo-dyed cloth. Weaving has become her identity, and her dark blue hands symbolize both craft and resilience. Hermina’s small business, supported by family and relatives, exemplifies the traditional weaving artistry of Sumba. She stands as a beacon of pride for her community.

Malaysia: Batu Caves Procession

In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the annual procession from the city to the famous Batu Caves marks International Workers’ Day. This multi-cultural capital reverberates with solidarity as workers, activists, and families participate in the vibrant parade. The colorful spectacle celebrates unity and demands justice for laborers.

China: Parades and Solidarity

China’s International Workers’ Day parades are addressed by trade union leaders. These gatherings emphasize workers’ rights, social justice, and the importance of collective action. Regional secretaries amplify the voices of laborers, advocating for fair wages, safe working conditions, and dignity in the workplace.

However, for most workers this is not a free holiday: they have to work an extra day prior or after the May 1st celebrations to substitute for taking off that day.

Japan: Reflection and Resilience

In Japan, International Workers’ Day is a time for reflection. Workers gather at rallies, discussing labor issues and reaffirming their commitment to progress. The resilience of Japanese workers, especially after the devastation of World War II, is celebrated. It’s a day to honor the past and envision a better future.

Vietnam: Cultural Performances and Tributes

Vietnam combines tradition with modernity during Labor Day celebrations. Cultural performances, music, and art exhibitions highlight workers’ contributions. Tributes are paid to historical figures who championed labor rights. The festive atmosphere underscores the importance of unity and social justice.

As we traverse Asia, we witness a tapestry of struggles, resilience, and hope. International Workers’ Day unites beyond borders, languages, and occupations. (zai)
Source: FES