Maxine du Plessis
Workers’ Day has been officially recognised and observed since the first democratic elections in 1994. The day is used to honour the contribution of working-class men and women across the globe. It is a public holiday in South Africa, which originated with the historical struggles of workers and trade unions.
What sets our local Workers’ Day apart from the International celebrations, is that we needed to establish a culture of human and worker rights. It was initially known as May Day.
According to SA History, the struggle for a shorter workday dates back to October 1884, when the Federation of Organized Trades and Labour Unions (US) resolved that a working day should constitute of only eight hours. In 1895, May Day was celebrated for the first time and the movement started gaining traction.
The South African labour federation, Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), formed in December 1985. Cosatu demanded that May Day be recognised as a public holiday and renamed to Workers Day. The call for a stay-away was heeded by approximately 1.5 million workers, students, business owners, and unemployment citizens. Rallies were held across the country, with the majority centred on the Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging area, today known as Gauteng.
Premier Foods became the first large employer to declare 1 May and 16 June as paid holidays and many other large companies followed suit.
“Workers of South Africa, on Workers Day we celebrate all the physical and mental efforts we put in our economic, social and moral progress. Every 1st of May, together, we also honour our achievements.
We also renew our dedication to safeguarding the hard-fought gains of South African workers. Together we have made South Africa a prosperous and progressive nation. Our economy has found renewed strength because of the enthusiasm, hard work and collective contribution of our labour force. However, no matter how big or small our achievements, we must not become complacent. We will continue to work together to improve the conditions of workers and their wellbeing, our labour force being the most precious of all our resources. A force for progress and productivity.
This is the South Africa we are building together for all. We aspire, we strive, we build, and we share.
On this occasion, we also acknowledge the enterprising role of employers for creating job opportunities and honouring their obligations in providing conducive and safe working environments.
Our unity as a nation and as workers remains essential for the continued development of South Africa. Madiba Youth Organisation calls upon all workers to be inspired by our patriotic national theme I Love South Africa. On Workers’ Day, we reflect on the values that bind us. We pray for the preservation of the positive attributes and contributions of all South Africans. It is by working together, respecting one another’s beliefs and, above all, caring for our country that will bring us greater success.” Madiba Youth Organisation.