Workers Day

Workers Day

Statue depicting laborers
Statue depicting laborers

When researching this post, I found an article that stated that 1 May has only been a public holiday in South Africa since 1994. This holiday is meant to be an acknowledgement of all labourers and the working class. It was first brought about by the Second International (originally the Socialist International), a pan-national organization of socialist and communist parties, in commemoration of a bombing that took place at a labour strike in Chicago in 1886. It is also known as Labour Day.

Here in South Africa the history of Workers Day goes back to before it became an official holiday.

The first May Day celebration was recorded to have taken place in 1895 and was held in Johannesburg.

The next celebration appears to have taken place to coincide with the visit of a British labour and socialist leader, Tom Mann, in 1910.

A mineworkers strike in 1913 and railwaymen strike in 1914 lead to the emergence of the Labour Party, which then went on to win a majority in the Traansvaal Provincial election of 1914.

In 1918 the Internationalist Social League (ISL) held a demonstration in Ferrierastown, Johannesburg, and made history by having William Thebedi and Talbot Williams, two black men from the African People’s Organisation, as guest speakers.

The first mass action only actually took place in 1928 and it was taken up by, and dwarfed the white only Labour Party’s demonstration.  This became an annual event until 1948.

May Day

On the 1st May, 1950, the Communist Party of South Africa called for a strike against the Suppression of Communism Act. The strike cost the lives of 18 people across South Africa. This appears to be the first recording of Mr Nelson Mandela’s participation in a political rally of such magnitude.

The Freedom Charter was born in 1955.

COSATU took up the call in 1986
COSATU took up the call in 1986

In 1986 on the 100th anniversary of May Day the newly formed COSATU demanded that the day be recognised as a public holiday and called for a stay-away. More than 1,5 million workers observed this call. The majority of workers unilaterally declared the day a public holiday and stayed away from work.

Workers Day became a public holiday in 1994
Workers Day became a public holiday in 1994

Premier foods became the first large employer to declare 1 May and 16 June as paid holidays.

Workers Day, May Day and Labour Day are the names which these days are known by and are international holidays. It is the reason we have an 8 hour working day (except for nurses and other emergency workers).

I hope you all have a safe and peaceful Workers Day even if you are one of the unlucky ones working on this day.

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