Workers have cause to celebrate today

Today sees the celebration of one of the oldest and most universal of public holidays. Workers’ Day, known also as May Day or Labour Day in countries across the world, has always been associated with the start of spring (northern hemisphere) as well as the celebration of the economic and social achievements of workers.

In socialist and communist countries, the day has also been used to honour military and industrial efforts.

In South Africa, Workers’ Day – appropriately first celebrated in 1994 – is linked to the historic struggles of the working class. By the forming of trade unions, the collective strength and bargaining power has achieved many victories for a sector that for so long was abused.

Workers are now better paid, their working conditions are far safer, their hours are no longer slave-like and they enjoy the benefits of overtime, pension funds and medical aid schemes.

Many now also enjoy profitsharing schemes and other bonuses. The cancer of discrimination in the workplace continues to be under the microscope.

The culture of human rights has correctly cascaded down to workers’ rights, while labour legislation is constantly being adapted to ensure the welfare of workers.

The slogan ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’ is a rallying cry whenever the labour movement feels injustice has been done. However, the greater union movement is itself fragmented, and serious questions are often being asked.

One such enquiry concerns the use of vast amounts of money that accrues from membership fees, and whether self-enrichment sees the coffers being looted.

Strategies such as strikes, where the collective strength is a forceful weapon, can also mean that the ‘injury to one’ could at times be self-inflicted and counter-productive.

It is not in workers’ interests for investors to be scared off, or for businesses and industries to shut their doors. The employment creators must also be protected, for if they close down the labour force loses jobs.

Strikes are costly in many ways, and that threat hangs over the national economy like the Sword of Damocles.

Strikes often turn violent – sometimes because of the way they are improperly controlled by law enforcers and sometimes because the levels of anger and frustration have reached breaking point.

This invariably has the effect of turning sympathy for a cause into the kind of anger that is rooted in fear.

A protected and productive labour force is our country’s greatest asset. Bring on those negotiators who can resolve the many hindrances to that ideal.

Dave Savides

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