Celebrate Thirty Years Of Class Struggle Since The Durban Strikes APF

Thursday 1 May 2003 by APF

Where does May Day Come From?

MAY DAY has militant traditions in the workers’ movement internationally. On 1st May 1868, over one million US workers went on strike to demand an 8-hour working day. They won their demand. On 1st May 1890 hundreds of thousands of workers around the world took to the streets demanding an 8-hour working day. International Workers’ Day (May Day) was born.

The Durban Strikes of 1973

Thirty years ago in South Africa, in early 1973, workers in Durban went on a series of spontaneous strikes to demand a living wage. The Durban strikes led to a sustained strike wave in the country and, as a result, the modern trade union movement was born. The trade union movement that emerged from 1973 based itself on strike action, worker control and democracy. The shop-steward movement was based on shop floor democracy and mandate. This model of democracy was transported to the civic movement in the 1980s. The struggle for socialism in South Africa was also embraced by the working class through the struggles of the trade union movement. In celebrating MAY DAY this year, we are also celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Durban strikes. We are celebrating the militant traditions of the Working Class. The Lives of Working Class People Today

The working class and the poor continue facing a sustained assault from the capitalist class and the ANC government:

1. The gap between the rich and poor is widening aggressively.

  • Today the gap between capitalists’ profits and wages/salaries is the biggest since 1981.
  • In 1995 the poorest 20% of households received 1,9% of total South African income. By the year 2000 the poorest of the poor received 1,6%.
  • Almost 8 million people (40% of the ’working’ population) are presently unemployed.
  • Bosses in both the public and private sectors increasingly employ low paid, casual and outsourced labour and it is now easier for them to fire workers.

2. There has been no meaningful land redistribution

  • Less than 2% of the country’s land has been redistributed since 1994.
  • Capitalists still own the machinery and technology needed to produce for our needs.

3. The ANC government continues its war against the working class/poor by privatising state companies and basic services.

  • An estimated 10 million South Africans have had their water cut-off for various periods of time since 1998.
  • Tens of thousands of people in poor urban communities around South Africa have had their electricity cut-off by the state owned Eskom in the last several years.
  • The ANC government now uses pre-paid water and electricity meters to ensure ’cost recovery’ from those who no longer can afford what are basic human rights.

The celebration of MAY DAY gives us a chance to note these attacks and develop a campaigns response to the attacks of the capitalist class and their ANC government.

Where is the COSATU Leadership?

In 1986, despite the repressive apartheid state, COSATU organised a successful stay away, demanding, among other things, that 1st May should be a public holiday. Over 1.5 million workers heeded the call and COSATU finally won the demand in 1990.

COSATU also demanded a living wage, free education and housing for all workers in 1986. Today, the ANC government has failed to meet these 1986 demands of its alliance partner, because bosses needs for profits come first. Under the ANC government, many workers work longer hours, there is an acute shortage of housing for working class communities and millions have lost their jobs. The COSATU leadership agreed to the Labour Law Amendments. This allows for overtime hours to increase to 15 hours per week over two months in a 12-month period. The leading bodies of COSATU have undermined the demands and traditions of MAY DAY (8 hour working day).

Recently metro-bus workers fought for a maximum 10.5-hour day (8 hours plus two and half hour break). After five weeks of strike action, the ANC government was only prepared to reduce their 14-hour spread over shift by 30 minutes. This makes a complete mockery of an 8-hour working day.

This year, for the first time since 1994, the COSATU leadership has decided to hold a joint celebration of MAY DAY with the ANC-led Gauteng Government. Like the upcoming Growth and Development Summit (GDS), this is another attempt to deliver workers and the poor to the ANC government. The ANC is preparing for the 2004 General Elections. Just like in the Job Summit of 1998, the GDS is a platform to present a class collaboration project between government, business and labour. Class collaboration will be presented as another "victory" for workers and the poor. We will not be fooled.

A Call to COSATU Militants & Workers

Over the past few years, many COSATU militants and workers have not attended MAY DAY celebrations because the true meaning and militant tradition of MAY DAY is undermined. The APF provides a platform for you to celebrate the true meaning and reclaim the militant traditions of MAY DAY.

The APF aims to build solidarity among workers and working class communities. Solidarity is important because workers and poor communities have to fight the same enemy - capitalism, GEAR, evictions, and privatisation. Join the APF.

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