International Workers’ Day is a celebration of the working classes and occurs on May 1 every year.
Established in SA in 1994
The 1st of May was inaugurated as an official national public holiday, following the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. Known as International Workers’ Day as well as May Day, the holiday is celebrated internationally, with as many as 80 countries honouring the date and what it stands for.
The Chicago Haymarket Affair
The history of Workers’ Day goes back to the 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago, where police tried to disperse a large crowd of striking workers who were protesting for a shorter work day of eight hours. A bomb was thrown at the policemen by an unidentified assailant, and law officers then proceeded to fire live ammunition at a defenceless crowd of unarmed strikers.
“No single event has influenced the history of labour in Illinois, the United States, and even the world, more than the Chicago Haymarket Affair. It began with a rally on May 4, 1886, but the consequences are still being felt today. Although the rally is included in American history textbooks, very few present the event accurately or point out its significance,” according to labour studies Professor William J. Adelman.
1st of May as Public Holiday
In 1891, after successful annual demonstrations on 1st of May around the globe, Workers’ Day was formally instated in the official calendars of many countries. Since then, Workers’ Day has been used by the working class across the world, South Africa included, to emphasise the need to establish fair labour practices and employment standards. Our democratic government chose to commemorate this day and its ideology after the fall of the Apartheid regime and this public holiday serves as a stark reminder to governments of the power of the working class.
After the Apartheid Era, South Africa’s society has been suffering from a distinct inequality which has hampered the social and economic growth of previously disadvantaged communities. Read this article about the challenges facing South African families today.