May Day Rally
Friday 30 March 2007
The APF will be hosting a May Day Workers Rally in the community of Residensia (Sebokeng - Vaal Triangle) at Tshepo Themba School at 10h00 tomorrow in support of all the working class struggles in the country. The event is giving particular support to the residents of the area where many former workers of BHP Billiton SAMANCOR Meyerton reside. These are workers who were retrenched by the multi-national corporation after it discovered that the workers were poisoned by the spew of manganese gas. Their families have endured many years of heartache because the resulting diseases have literally drained them of their physical strength. The event will also remember the history of May Day and some of the victories that workers have won in struggling to achieve a another kind of socio-economic system - socialism - that will benefit not only workers but all ordinary people.
We remember that in America, May Day is commonly celebrated as a commemoration of the Haymarket Riot of 1886 in Chicago, Illinois, which occurred on May 4, but was the culmination of labour unrest which began on May 1. It was one of the many strikes called for May Day in 1886 and was against the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in Chicago. The air was already heated with rousing speeches and debates when, on May 3 a fight broke out along the picket lines. When police intervened to restore order, several strikers were injured and killed. Union leaders called a protest meeting at Haymarket Square for the evening of May 4; it was there that a bomb exploded. Seven policemen were killed and many were injured. Eight unionists, alleged to be responsible for the incident, were arrested, tried, and convicted of murder. Four of them were hanged, and one committed suicide. Following this tragedy public sympathy with organised labourers was severely tested. went down. However, three years later in 1889, an association of French Socialists - under the banner of the Second International - declared that May Day should be devoted to workers and their struggles/problems. They renamed it "Labour Day" and it became an occasion for important political demonstrations.
The idea of May Day really gained ground in other parts of the world when the International Socialist Congress of 1889, which took place in Paris, designated it as an international labour day. While in the United States and Canada, Labour Day still continues to be observed on the first Monday in September, the rest of the world observes it on May 1 or other dates. In the 1920s, the Soviets inaugurated May Day parades and May Day became a major holiday in the Soviet Union and in many other parts of the world. 1st May has now become widely known as International Workers’ Day or Labour Day and has taken on the character of a celebration of the social and economic achievements of the working class and labour movement.
Despite the well-known transition from apartheid to democracy, South Africa remains as the one of the most unequal societies in the world where the unemployment rate is now almost 40%. According to the ILO, that is more than twice as high as most other middle-income countries. This, in turn means we face worse poverty than other middle-income countries. The lack of delivery of social services and the prevalence of HIV and AIDS are other indicators of the deepening social misery. For democracy to work the poor and the marginalised need to have an equal voice in the delivery of social services, budgets and the general allocation of resources. The fact that the South African government has a surplus in its budget in a context where the majority of the people remain in abject poverty is an indication that South African society needs a coordinated voice of the marginalised that can struggle and advocate for the improvement of the lives of the poor. With the introduction of neo-liberal policies by the ANC government, we have witnessed many social and economical ills. We have noticed that labour laws have become increasingly flexible - something that can be witnessed with the Dursots workers in Eikenhof (south of Johannesburg) who are facing some of the worst violations of their human and labour rights ever seen in South Africa. Many workers have taken into the streets over the last thirteen years to raise their voices against poor living and working conditions. Vulnerable workers such as those on farms and in domestic homes often work in appalling conditions with no protection from bosses, who have little to fear from a government and, more specifically, a Labour Department, who have shown time and again that they are more interested in ‘competitiveness’ and profits than they are with the lives and welfare of vulnerable and abused workers.
Despite all the set backs the APF has supported the workers struggle as part of our contribution to ensure that the working class regains its confidence in fighting the bosses and a government that is clearly no longer on their side (if it ever was). We have joined and built pickets during many strikes, have convened public meetings and produced numerous pamphlets on workers struggles and strikes. The APF has emphasised the importance of not scabbing and has regularly called on communities not to be fooled by volunteerism, as a method to break the strike. The APF has done its best to build support for worker struggles because we believe that it is only through the united combination of worker and community struggles workers that the poor can force the bosses and government to change their attitudes and policies.
We know who are the enemies of the working class. It is not only the big capitalists and the racist bosses who are the enemy of working people - it is the very ANC government which has, again and again, failed to listen to the workers and poor, and instead adopted policies that favour the capitalists and the profiteers as well as consistently refusing even the modest demands of workers for a living wage. The APF seeks to build unity with progressive unions and rank and file workers and supports working class struggles wherever they are.
FORWARD WITH A UNITED WORKING CLASS STRUGGLE!
For more information, please Silumko on 0721737268 or Mondli on 0843773003.
- SAMANCOR Retrenched Workers’ Crisis Committee - SRWCC