Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The first of May: Power, Legitimacy and Urgency

It’s the first of May and I am sitting in my office even though we have the day off. To get into my building I had to step over several union banners laying on the ground, ready to be taken to the official annual rally. I felt something like pride when I saw these committed people waiting to start announcing their demands. They could have just stayed at home and had a lazy morning, drinking coffee but they decided to put themselves out there. And I did feel a bit bad that I was ignoring this “Labor Day” and going to work but I am just not the rallying type. Apart from all the vandalism and violence that usually co-occurs on this day, I think it is good that workers use this day to say what they think they are entitled to. For at least one day a year it gives total legitimacy and power to the stakeholder employee and the “worker” in general. I think it is also a kind of celebration of the rights we do have here: Right of unions, freedom of association, right to strike, freedom of speech and so on.

When glancing over to Bangladesh, globally there is still an extremely long way to go. The claims workers have in Dhaka are not only legitimate but also very urgent. When a house is actually built on sand, shows obvious cracks, workers knowing about this danger but still going to work because they are worried to lose their job they are so dependent on, the disastrous absence of their power is evident. Yesterday the people of Dhaka went out on the street to demonstrate their anger. Demonstration and strike is their only means to counteract on their lack of power in hope to find leverage of their claims through other parties.

Looking out of the window I can see all the different concerns the people have. The concerns are not just about work, but about people living together as a society in general. Even though I don’t share all of the opinions and many demands are much too extreme for my taste, I want to go along. Here is my demonstration: People should take responsibility for what they do. Businesses should take responsibility for what they do. Not only power and urgency, but also legitimacy of claims should guide the way. Only by respecting and treating others as human beings and not as abstract figures in a long value chain can we work together to mutually create value for people.

Vanessa McSorley

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