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1886 to 1986 – 100 Years of May Day

On the first day of May 1886, the factories in America were quiet. But the streets were full of noise – the noise of the workers singing. Their song went, “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest and eight hours to do what we want.”

Ever since then, the first day of May Day has been a special day for workers. We spoke to some trade unions in South Africa. We asked them why May Day is important to workers.

Mahlomola Skosana of Council of the Unions of South Africa (CUSA) “May Day is a day for the workers to sit down, and put up their feet. It is a day for workers to make demands – for a better place to work and live. The bosses and the government must give the workers what they want.”

Chris Bonner of the Chemical Workers’ Industrial Union (CWIU) “May Day is a workers’ holiday. We believe many workers will just take the day off without asking their bosses. We have tried for two years to get May Day as a paid holiday. Now bosses in about 16 factories have agreed to this demand. We hope that more bosses will agree to this.”

Aaron Nthinyaof the Building, Construction and Allied Workers’ Union (BCAWU) “We believe May Day is a workers’ day. May Day has an important history. So we think workers must not go to work. They must spend the day quietly with their families and friends. They must also go to meetings where people speak about the importance of May Day. We hope workers who do not know about May Day will learn about it.”

Motsomi Mokhine of AZACTU (Azanian Confederation of Trade Unions) “We believe workers must not be divided on this day. It is more important to be united this year because it is 100 years of May Day. All the big union groups like Cusa, Azactu and Cosatu must show the world that workers in South Africa are united. Then workers in other countries will know we are united with them in their struggles too.”

Jay Naidoo of Cosatu – Congress of South African Trade Unions. “When Cosatu started, we said we wanted May Day as a workers’ public holiday. We want to swop Apartheid holidays like Republic Day, Founders Day and the Day of the vow, so that workers can get May Day and June 16th as paid public holidays.”

Marcel Golding of the National Union of Mineworkers (Num) “It is a workers’ day so all workers must come together with workers all over the world. The workers must unite against hunger, low wages, and the bad working and living conditions throughout the world.”

Taffy Adler of National Automobile and Allied Workers Union (Naawu) ”May Day means a fight for a shorter working day for workers all over the world. We want a forty-hour week so workers have more time to relax and spend with their families. Workers must have time to read books and newspapers. Now workers are too tired to study or learn after work. And if people work shorter hours, the bosses will need more people to work. This will help unemployed people. The government and the bosses must put people before money.”

We asked some workers from CCAWUSA what May Day means to them. They said. “The workers’ struggle is the same everywhere. So workers must help each other. For example, some workers in Ireland were fired because they refused to work with fruit from South Africa.

”We also try to help workers from other countries. We heard that 3-M were closing their factory at Freehold in America. All the Freehold workers will lose their jobs. So on 28 February, 1986 350 Ccawusa members at 3-M in Elandsfontein went on strike.”

“The workers told 3-M in South Africa to tell the bosses in America to save the workers’ jobs. We will only win when workers all over the world stand together.”


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