International Day for Labor – Pakistani Style

Offices all over the country were abuzz with happy anticipation on the eve of First May, International Day for Labor. Smiles plastered all over, everyone looked forward to a day of utter relaxation and content at home. For what else does Labor Day mean to us except a midweek free holiday?

Yours truly was of one of those highly chirpy and excited individuals relishing the thought of a full day off right after ubiquitously hated Monday. Slept till late, woke up to the sound of my servant sweeping my room:

‘aap aaj kaam pe nahin gaaein?’ (Why didn’t you go to work today?) She enquired.

It was a holiday I explained flippantly, to which the further enquiry of what kind of holiday left me scrambling for words. How could I explain to this women that it was Labor Day, an international day off for honoring people of the world who engage in manual labor, and everyone in Pakistan got the day off except for the um… laborer.

In a country where the daily wage worker earns just enough to be able to provide sustenance for a day, a national holiday for all isn’t going to be much of a reason for him to rejoice. To sit back and bask in the ‘honor’ being heaped on him by blue/white collar workers on this day will mean another day of gnawing hunger pangs and no medicine for the old sick mother.

This year Labor Unions in Lahore flanked by the effervescent leftists carried out rallies demanding higher wages, pension, etc. This happens every year. Sometimes the government announces an increase in the minimum wage limit (followed by no one in Pakistan may I add), sometimes like this year it sits in the sidelines and claps politely at the processions of union represented laborers.

Yet the majority of laborers in Pakistan are not even affiliated with unions. The unregistered majority that sits on the roadsides waiting for someone to hire them for work whatever it may be, can’t afford to take a day off when there are families to feed especially since they are unaware of the existence of such a day to begin with.

Let’s please not make a mockery out of the idea behind this day that serves to empathize with the laborer who toils all day in the sun. He is uneducated, doesn’t have resources for a placement, or has extraneous damning circumstances that won’t allow him to take on a permanent job; at least he’s not sitting on the roadside having maimed himself and his children begging for money. He works. And this contribution must be honored, not made a fool of.

By Sarah Eleazar

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