Workers’ Day or May Day, as it’s referred to, is celebrated the world over every year. However, here in South Africa, the voices of labour aren’t celebrated.
They complain that the gains made by ordinary workers since independence are fast going backwards and there’s self-introspection going on about the need for the workers’ movement to be more united than it currently is.
A serious discussion is raging about the depoliticisation of unions, with some calling for the breakup of the tripartite alliance of the African National Congress, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and the South African Communist Party.
Workers complain that they don’t earn enough money to survive and with hundreds of thousands of jobs lost from the beginning of the pandemic until now, there’s also the acute fear of job insecurity.
General Secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions, Zwelinzima Vavi says workers are under siege.
“We are on a rearguard battle to defend existing conditions. The gains we’ve scored over many years are suddenly under such attack, in particular from multinationals. This is the time we should be united. This is the time that we should be speaking in one voice, unfortunately, we’re not convincing everybody that unity is more important than the short-term gains people want to make at a political level.”
— SAFTU (@SAFTU_media) May 1, 2022
Vavi laments that unions had not collectively come together on Sunday to speak with one voice in one place, with different functions held in different places.
Unity is a concern for many in the labour movement, especially when it comes to political affiliation. Some are saying this trend has done nothing to serve the worker and should come to an end.
Volani Maluleke from the Vision Integrated Workers Union states that “We can no longer have unions that are affiliated to political parties because it is through these alliances that workers are used for political expediency and at the end of the day, the politicians are able to get away with murder because they know that they’ve got millions of workers behind them.”
Veteran labour activist and former general secretary-general of the Federation of Unions of South Africa, Dennis George, says the trade union movement needs to reset its approach in how it achieves its goals.
“It is also important for our own employees to also become shareholders in the companies where they work, I mean who said they can’t benefit financially in these companies, who said attend AGM’s, who said they don’t have a voice to raise their voice, so that’s v important for us and we must have a new approach to trade unionism.”
Some labour activists say they’re going to continue campaigning for an investigation into the country’s banking system, which they allege is corrupt and deliberately disadvantages the black and particularly poor workers.
Worker’s Day | The world marks International Workers’ Day