Today is International workers’ day – an event celebrated globally to appreciate the working class. Google is celebrating workers’ day with a doodle today.
On 1st, May 1886, there was a general workers’ strike in Chicago over labour conditions and a eight-hour workday request. More than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States left their jobs on the first workers day in history. In Chicago, 40,000 went out on strike in a peaceful protest; there were anarchists giving speeches, parades, bands and tens of thousands of demonstrators united in strength and purpose as their numbers increased.
Two days later, violence broke out between steelworkers and the police at the McCormick Reaper Works. For six months, armed Pinkerton agents and the police harassed and beat locked-out steelworkers as they picketed- resulting in the death of two workers and many casualties
Enraged by the actions of the Pinkerton agents and the police, some of the anarchists called a meeting the next day, in Haymarket Square to discuss the brutality. It is said that two detectives rushed to the main body of police, reporting the use of inflammatory language, inciting the police. As the police began to disperse an already thinning crowd, a bomb detonated in the police ranks. the police fired into the crowd. The exact number of civilians killed or wounded remains undetermined.
May 1 was earmarked to be International Workers’ Day to commemorate the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago.
In Africa, this is a time to drop work tools and appreciate the value of rest. It is also a time for discussions among labour unions on existing issues such as salaries, wages and working conditions.
This year’s workers day is particularly important to Nigerian and South African workers who have finally won a battle for minimum wages.
After nine years, Nigerian workers got a new minimum wage approved by its federal government; it was increased from 18,000 Naira to 30,000 Naira – a 66.6% increase.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa signed into law, the National Minimum Wage Bill which took effect in January 2019; the country’s first-ever national minimum wage. In this, he set a historic precedent in the protection of the working class. The legislation sets a minimum national rate of R20 per hour or 3, 500 rands per month, depending on the number of hours worked.
Significantly, most African countries, were colonies of various European powers and after independence took on most of these traditional celebrations.
On May 1, South Africa celebrates Worker’s Day commemorating the role played by Trade Unions, the Communist Party and other labour movements in the struggle against Apartheid.
Ghana observed its first May Day celebration in 1965, eight years after its independence in 1957.
The May Day celebration was suspended in the wake of the first military coup on 24 February 1966, which toppled Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party (CPP) Government. The celebration was resumed in 1967 after January 13, 1972, military coup led by General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong.
This event was marked with a Grand National parade held at the forecourt of the Accra Community Centre.
Zimbabwe also celebrates May Day on the 1st of May as well. A popular activity on May Day is to decorate a pole with paper streamers. Some people also add flowers and balloons. It’s also a day of convergence for most workers to reflect on working conditions and other issues affecting them such as salaries and wages.
In Kenya, May Day celebrations are held at Uhuru Park and generally well attended but this year’s low turnout is due to discontent among Kenyan workers. Labour unions demand a solution to rising unemployment and an increase of up to 25% in the national minimum wage.