Earlier this month, South Africa celebrated Workers’ Day on 1 May. Unlike most other public holidays in South Africa, Workers’ Day is also observed in other parts of the world - over 80 countries - where it is sometimes also known as International Workers’ Day, Labour Day or May Day.
During 2020 and into 2021, the rise of COVID-19 has reminded us all of the importance of so many workers who are often overlooked – people like nurses, carers, cleaners, shop workers and delivery drivers. They have arguably become our coronavirus heroes as they put themselves at risk of contracting the virus in the line of their duties.
We salute them, and we acknowledge the struggles that workers experience around the world, from working conditions to pay.
Workers’ Day began within the historical struggles of workers and their trade unions for solidarity between working people, and their efforts to achieve fair employment standards. In the United States, its origins began in 1886, where workers across the country walked out of their jobs demanding an eight-hour day. Prior to this, in Victoria, Australia, stonemasons undertook a mass stoppage on 21 April 1856, as part of the eight-hour day workday movement, and this became an annual event.
In the United Kingdom, International Workers’ Day is observed on 01 May and coincides with May Day, which is an annual celebration of spring in that country. A bank (public) holiday is observed in the UK on the first Monday of May. In the USA, Labour Day is observed on the first Monday in September.
Workers’ Day in South Africa falls on 1 May and commemorates the role of the trade unions, the South African Communist Party and other labour movements in the struggle against apartheid.
Before 1994, South Africa observed the 1 May public holiday as Labour Day or May Day, but the name was changed to Workers’ Day at the dawn of the country’s democracy.
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