As we are approaching May Day celebrations, workers should remember that this is not a day of rest from the punitive toil of work. Workers Day is a worldwide general strike against exploitative wages and slavery working conditions under capitalism. Workers do not just gather to remember the heroes of the past great struggles but mobilise against worsening unemployment, poverty, inequality and corruption. May Day is also about highlighting a range of other structural fault lines of the status quo such as terrible public education and health care, poor public transport system, lack of electricity, housing under capitalism. It is also about the demonstration of working-class solidarity, unity, internationalism and class struggles that are the foundations of the worker’s movement.
History of May Day
The idea of May Day first originated in Australia in 1856 when workers first decided on the idea on once-off work stoppage on April 22 to protest long hours of work and for an 8 hour working day. Back then, at the height of the industrial revolution, working hours were generally between 14-16 hours a day for six days a week, child labour pervasive and working-class life short and brutal due to horrendous conditions of work and life. Even the best efforts of reformers resulted only in limitation of work for children below nine years and for children 9 years older, 12 hours a day for six days a week.
The great success of the stoppage placed the matter firmly on the agenda of the workers’ movement in Australia and was taken up by American workers in 1886 and 400 trade union and socialist delegates to the 1889 World Congress of the International Workingmen Association. In 1886 when the Knights of Labour and Federation of Organised Trades and Labour (Now American Federation of Labour), the leading organisations of the American working class, called for a strike and demonstrations on May 1, 1886, more than 300 000 workers responded to the call. In Chicago, where more than 40 000 workers participated in the strikes, an unidentified but probably a police agent, threw a bomb at the police who were dispersing the demonstration at the Haymarket Square. Seven Policemen and eight workers were killed as a result. In a controversial trial with a packed jury that was clearly biased, workers leaders were accused, found guilty and sentenced to death for the crime.
When revolutionaries from across Europe gathered on 14 July 1889 to re-found an International party of workers revolution and socialism, they decided on making work stoppages a worldwide strike, in protest against the hanging of the martyrs of the Haymarket Square, solidarity with American working class and socialist internationalism.
Crisis of South African capitalism and May Day today
In the spirit of the historic Paris Congress, the South African workers have been celebrating May Day since 1916 in accordance with the ‘conditions prevailing in the country’, which for the most part meant an open defiance of apartheid regime and then, like now, to protest repressive working and living conditions of the working class people.
In 2019, the working class will be commemorating May Day against the background of multiple crises of capitalism and neoliberalism rooted in the on-going crisis of climate change, 2008/9 Worldwide Economic Great Recession, which an awful decade later it is worsening, instead of getting better. This crisis is threatening a complete bankruptcy of every sphere of government — hundreds of billions of rands required to bail out mismanaged State-Owned Entities, and insolvency of Municipalities amongst others.
The catastrophic flooding of KZN that left 70 dead and 2 still missing, and devastations wreaked by a cyclone Idai in peoples of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi are just but two immediate instances urging urgency on the need to overcome capitalism, whose logic of constant expansion at the expense of environment threaten many forms of life including human species. Science has shown that all these droughts in the Western parts of our country and many other disastrous are only the beginning of an impending ecological disaster.
These would only aggravate an already worsening economic crisis and deepening poverty and hunger. Hundreds of thousands of job losses in the mining, agriculture, manufacturing and other key industries, etc. growing unemployment, poverty, complete paralysis of public services and stoppage of many government projects, along with rampant corruption, are both rooted in the economic and political crises of capitalism. Unfortunately, it is the working class people who are being made to pay, not the capitalists and politicians who benefit from them.
The working class is unable to fight back because it is not organised and remains divided by racism, xenophobia, tribalism and sectarianism amongst other prejudices encouraged by the rich and politicians to keep us down. A worldwide general strike, Internationalism and working-class solidarity that underpin May Day is about combating and overcoming all these. When workers celebrate May Day should use the opportunity to reflect on how best to unite workers, young people and communities fighting against exploitations in the mines, job losses and unemployment, corruption and paralysis of the municipal government, increased VAT, sugar tax, electricity tariffs, record-breaking fuel increases and every cost presented to the poor to pay for crisis of the ANC government and capitalist system they’re managing.
SAFTU May Day General Strike
Revolutionaries gathered in Paris on 14 July 1889 on the hundred anniversary of the Storming of Bastille. This was to mark the beginning of the Great French Revolution.
Today, exactly 130 years later, workers, young people and communities in this country should go to this May Day asking how best to continue the struggle for social justice and alternatives to the crises of unemployment, failing public services, corruption, violent crime against women and children, drug abuse, etc. and all other ills of decaying capitalism. As SAFTU, we argue that workers must use this May Day as the great beginning of the mass movement against all these areas of a capitalist crisis as the best way to honour the martyrs of Haymarket Square and uphold the spirit of that historic Paris Congress.
We postponed but not cancelled the campaign for #ShutdownSouthAfrica to protest against the R20 an hour slavery wages, the attack on our right to strike, the rising costs of living as a result of the VAT increase, Sugar Tax, and increased tariffs for water, electricity and price of fuel, etc. We remain firm that the labour brokers must be totally banned and the e-tolls scrapped.
SAFTU calls for the maximum unity amongst all the working class formations. We call for a campaign that will occupy our land and for the nationalisation of all mines under worker’s democratic control. We call for the reopening of all closed mines and for the legalisations of the small-scale mining activities. We call on workers to occupy all abandoned factories and turn them into community-workers enterprises and create jobs to solve mass unemployment of youth in particular. In this regard we must draw lessons from the valuable experiences of the Argentinian occupation of workplaces that had been run into the ground by the capitalist bosses. Many communities in South Africa are rising up in protest. There are more protests since the announcement of the May 8 national elections. The protesters demand service delivery: water, electricity, housing, health care, education, jobs, etc. But behind the protests is the unemployment, poverty and inequality crisis. Underlying the protests is the exploitation and oppression of the capitalist system. As SAFTU we call on the working class township residents to unite with factory/mine/farm workers and form a new movement to protest against the crisis we all face
We call for the intensification of the Living and Social Wage Campaigns to fight for decent working conditions, and to demand jobs and delivery of quality public services like water, and free public education and healthcare from the cradle to the grave. This would go a long way in building a mass movement that can challenge the whole system from below. Building this campaign is the task facing trade unionists, and workers across the region, young people in colleges, schools and communities.
We place the blame for the deepening levels of unemployment, poverty, inequalities and corruption squarely not only on capitalism but the ANC and its alliance partners. These formations have not only managed this capitalist crisis in the disastrous hope to give it a human face but have been the great enforcers of neoliberalism and austerity programmes. We call on the South African working class to unite against the ANC on the 08 May and vote them out of power.
For SAFTU May Day tomorrow is another National General Strike following on the footsteps and demands of the 25 April 2018 and great beginnings of this campaign. We will be gathering for demonstrations in Polokwane, at the Old Peter Mokaba stadium, march from Durban’s King DiniZulu Park to the City Hall and rally at Mdantsane stadium and through affiliates other localised protests across the country, to which we invite everyone in protest against injustices in our workplaces and communities.