Many of the country’s political parties believe there is little to celebrate on May Day this year. The day, celebrated worldwide, is aimed at commemorating the achievement of workers and highlighting the challenges they continue to face.

In South Africa, high unemployment, the social and economic ravages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for worker unity are just some of the issues reflected by local parties.

Addressing Cosatu’s virtual May Day Celebrations, African National Congress President Cyril Ramaphosa emphasised the need for adequate and timely access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Lives and livelihoods of workers depend on these, he said.

“Workers of the world must unite to compel developed countries and these large pharmaceuticals companies to display more social solidarity in addressing this pandemic. We call on Cosatu and the rest of the mass democratic movement to intensify their efforts to join the progress forces at home and across the world, as Cosatu has already done to advocate for vaccine patent waiver.”

It is a theme echoed by the Democratic Alliance, which says the country is not safe until all workers and frontline health workers are safe. The party, however, slammed government’s rollout of the vaccines.

“For us, commemorating Workers’ Day means putting a particular spotlight on government’s shoddy and very much criminally slow (rollout) of the vaccine of COVID-19,” says DA National Spokesperson, Siviwe Gwarube.

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) has called for local workers to be prioritised in the face of high unemployment worsened by the pandemic.

“The IFP believes and support finding local solutions to local challenges. Importing talent and in specific Cuban engineers and doctors, is not in the best interest of South Africa,” says party leader Velenkosi Hlabisa.

The Freedom Front Plus has concurred with these sentiments, lamenting over-regulation of the labour market and the recent decision by the Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation to bring 24 Cuban engineers to the country to help resolve water infrastructure issues.

“Economic prosperity is hampered by red tape and over-regulation such as that through BEE regulation and a complete failure by the Department of Labour to deliver on its expanded mandate of employment creation in the midst of one of the greatest unemployment crises we have seen in the history of South Africa. The government opts to employ Cuban engineers while we have perfectly eligible engineers in our own country,” says Freedom Front Plus MP and the party’s labour Spokesperson, Heloise Denner.

The National Freedom Party has painted a bleak picture of the life of ordinary workers in South Africa.

“They earn meagre slavery wages while working in shocking conditions. The majority of them cannot afford to take their kids to school. They cannot afford vehicles and bonds they battling to make ends meet and are in debt or under debt review,” says NFP Secretary General, Canaan Mdletshe.

In the same vein, the African Transformation Movement (ATM) has lamented what it says is the continued exploitation and ill-treatment of South African workers with little assistance from the government.

The party’s National Communications Manager, Zama Ntshona, says corporate greed and the corruption at state-owned enterprises have robbed workers of their livelihoods.

“We are calling for the removal of all corrupt leaders, the recovery of the embezzled funds and for law enforcement to deal with the corrupt and bring to an end the reign of terror that has lead to job losses and the exploitation of workers.”

Political parties say little to celebrate this Workers’ Day

Fight against workers’ alienation

The Economic Freedom Fighters in a statement has blamed the country’s trade unions for the dire circumstances workers find themselves in, saying they have abandoned the struggle of workers. It has pledged to revive the fight against worker exploitation and alienation.

Meanwhile, the United Democratic Movement’s Bantu Holomisa has committed his party to supporting government workers as they gear up to fight for the promised increase in their salaries.

In its message, the Congress of the People (Cope) has also urged action by ordinary people.

“Workers must use their power to vote out any corrupt government that has looted this country. Workers are losing their jobs in their thousands. Retrenchments are the order of the day. Workers are having the power in their hands to change things in this country,” says  Cope National Spokesperson, Dennis Bloem.

Finally, the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) has extended wishes of goodwill to all workers going forward.

“We would particularly like to thank all the healthcare workers and doctors who are at the frontline of fighting the COVID 19 pandemic. We are deeply grateful for all your sacrifices and hard work and commitment,” says ACDP member of parliament, Steve Swart.

Below is a brief history of the day: 

Cosatu’s 2021 May Day celebrations