On this May Day of sad note, there is a prayer which wells up from deep within our souls. It is a prayer which goes out to the souls of the hundreds of our compatriots in whom life was snuffed out in Savar last week. These were people who lived honest lives, did not know the meaning of deceit, and had absolutely no comprehension of the meaning of hypocrisy. These were the poor children of poor parents; and they were the struggling fathers and mothers of children who needed to keep their heads above the water in the quotidian battle for a dignified place in the sun. Dignity came to these dead, as long as they lived, in incremental manner. Or not at all.
Life did not treat these honest souls well. And death took a huge swipe at them, in Savar, indeed in industrial complexes which depended on the nimble movement of their fingers across those clothes-making machines. It is to these people that we dedicate a morose May Day today. We do not promise them a new dawn, for they did not know the meaning of poetry etched across the skies emerging from the womb of night. It was at dawn that these men and women, under-nourished and hungry and tense and emaciated, trekked down the long miles to the factories that gave them a pittance of a livelihood and a surfeit of cruelty. On the thin shoulders of these men and women depended the future of hundreds of others — spouses, children, siblings, parents. It was a tall order they constantly came up with. It was a short life they were destined to live out through the incongruities of the times.
They never read the poetry painted across the dawn sky. For they knew their dawn was but a tiring walk into the darkness of night. This morning, May Day comes as a dirge in remembrance of the poor, those among the huddled masses, who have died or have been maimed for life at Tazreen Fashions, at Spectrum, at Smart Fashions, at Rana Plaza. The dead do not know that in their passing has come living death for those they have left behind. The living mother has no way of consoling the weeping child. That the child’s father is gone for good is a harsh truth the grieving mother will not reveal. The tear-drowned child holding up the fast-fading image of its father in the twilight silence of the fields of death in Savar waits for parents who lie crushed beneath the slabs of concrete. Those slabs bear all the tell-tale signs of corrupt living on the part of the greedy, on the part of the nouveau riche. Every dead man and woman under those stones is an indictment of the false society we are proud to be part of.
Today, the souls of the dead in Chicago’s Haymarket will tiptoe down to the desolation eerily enriched by the souls of the dead in Savar. All these years after Chicago, history remains witness to the brazen truth — that the poor suffer through the centuries, that they have precious few friends among the society of the happy and the contented and the sybaritic. And because their employers have never been their friends, because capitalism resting on crude semi-feudalism is a deterrent to the promotion of the common weal, these poor, dead and living, will suffer as they have suffered through the long twisting, winding journey of history.
The neo-capitalists in Bangladesh, worried about the angry worker who smashes a door in because his employers are determined to keep him underfed, do not have it in them to reflect on the sordid conditions this worker operates in. It is to this angry worker that we speak of May Day today. And to that insensitive garment industry owner worried about the image of the country before the world, to that man of questionable integrity parading himself as the owner of faulty towers, we have a simple statement to make: if you wish your industries to do well, if you want to respect the country, if you care about your dignity and the nation’s, begin by respecting your worker, by the individual who works hard to give you your place in the sun, who knows he must live on to bring his children out of the darkness engendered by poverty.
On May Day, let the world take note of the brutalisation of Bangladesh’s poor at the hands of its robber barons. These are the new rulers of the land. These are men who occupy seats in the nation’s parliament. They have little time for a remembrance of history. They studiously push aside all debate on politics. It is their business, the future of it, that consumes them. Nothing else is. The nation grinds to a halt. It goes into mourning, periodically, when a fire kills workers, when a building caves in on them. Nothing happens to these neo-entrepreneurs. Everything goes wrong for those whose lives began in misery and look likely to end in despair.
It is to the wretched of this land that we speak of May Day today. Someday the light of hope will graze their skies. Someday social justice will define their lives. Someday socialism will be a permanent way of life for all of us in this bruised land.
The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.