14 May, 2013

Why May Day

Why May Day

Labour day is considered a day political demostration to commemorate workers solidarity and highlight the problems that workers encounter at the hands of their employers.

Canada and USA were the first countries to celebrate May Day in 1886. It was decided during that time that a legal working day would consist of eight working hours, to ensure that all workers balance their working lives with their personal lives. Sixty-four years later in 1950, the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) called for a protest against the Suppression of Communism Act, which declared the party an unlawful organisation. Eighteen people died during the protest. Nelson Mandela, who later became South Africa’s first democractically elected president, was part of this protest. 

Two months later the CPSA was disbanded. As a result the ANC called for national mourning on this day to celebrate the lives of the 18 people who died in the protest. On December 1985, the South African Labour Federation Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) was formed. The organisation demanded that May Day be recognised as a public holiday. 

More than 1.5 million people heeded the call by COSATU. Rallies were held in major cities, even though many of these were banned by the state.  Premier Foods, the largest food producer, was the first employer to declare this day a public holiday. Even with the immense struggles of liberation movements such as COSATU salaries desparitiy is still a problem. 

The gap between income groups is getting wider, the unemployment figures are getting higher and more people are becoming dependent on social grants. Thus, the country needs more than just a holiday to show appreciation to the workers, but also implement policies and structures which will ensure that the country enjoys a healthy and diverse workforce.

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