Today, many large companies are considering cutting back to a 32-hour work week; many want to continue flexible working conditions. But in the 19th century, people lost their lives fighting for 8-hour work days. The age of Industrialisation had witnessed a rise in exploitative practices and unsafe working conditions. The capitalist environment paid little heed to worker rights. The Labour movement was thus a hard fought battle for what seems ‘the basic’ today : a five day work week, compensation for night-work, no child-labour, and more.
May 1 is observed as Labour Day, to acknowledge the everyday worker. Here’s our art-tribute!
Triumph of Labour, 1959 by D.P Roy Chowdhury commemorates India’s first Labour-Day, aligning with the global movement.
On May 1, 1923, M. Singaravelar Chettiar (1860-1946), organized India’s first Labour Day (or May Day) and launched the Labour Kisan Party, committed to protect the interests and rights of the working classes. Singaravelar was initially aligned with the Indian National Congress under Gandhi’s leadership and was one of the prominent leaders from the Madras Presidency. Within six months of the Russian Revolution, Singravelar (along with others) had formed the ‘Madras Labour Union‘ (27 April 1918) – the first trade union in India. The union led a 6-month long strike against British exploitation of mill-workers at Buckingham and Carnatic Mills.
Deviprasad Roy Chowdhury’s sculpture stands close to the site where Singaravelar hosted the first Labour-Day celebrations. This was the earliest sculpture to be erected on the beach, and features four figures engaged in the formidable task of moving a boulder. The sculpture acknowledges the intense physical effort and the hard work of countless workers who play a big role in shaping India. The monumental size and formation of the figures (with a focus on the muscles) can leave a viewer overwhelmed.