The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) says it will not be commemorating this Workers’ Day this year.
Instead the union is campaigning for Workers’ Day to be moved to a date that it says is “more emblematic” of South Africa’s working class struggle – the Marikana massacre on August 16.
On August 16, 2012, police opened fire on a crowd of striking miners at Marikana in the North West. Thirty-four mineworkers were killed, and 78 seriously injured.
“As a trade union we hold the Lonmin [Marikana] massacre in the same logical plane as the Soweto Uprising and the Sharpeville Massacres, just mention a few; which have managed to symbolise the youth and human rights struggles of our Country,” AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa said.
“It is this symbolism that gives meaning and relevance, within context, to a public holiday for whatever purpose.”
Minimum wage battle
International Workers’ Day is celebrated globally on May 1 every year after 300 000 workers in the US left their workplaces to demand an eight hour working day, Mathunjwa said.
However, the day has been adapted to celebrate various struggles in different contexts in different countries.
“Suffice to mention, there have been different standards internationally in determining the workers day with some countries using the first Monday of May while other countries such as the USA celebrate this day on the first Monday of September,” he said.
“This goes on to show therefore that there is no static symbolism attached to the 1 May date, which can overridden by peculiar circumstances that are definitive of a country’s history, giving rationale to the choice of a specific date for the recognition and celebration of Workers’ Day.”
Mathunjwa also referred to the heated minimum wage battle, which he points out has been elevated to national debate on “the backdrop of struggles incarnated by August 16 Massacre”.
“The struggle against slave wages in the South African labour market has never been more relevant with the enactment of the National Minimum Wage of R20 per hour against a backdrop of R12 500 monthly wage championed by Lonmin Workers in 2012,” he said.
AMCU proposes that the Workers’ Day date be reviewed in line with recent experiences in South African history.
“Workers’ Day must commemorate our struggle. [The] Lonmin [Marikana] massacre is the epitome of our struggle. August 16 must be our Workers’ Day,” Mathunjwa said.
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