Johannesburg- The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) will not be commemorating Workers Day with other trade unions, instead it wants August 16 to be declared a public holiday, in commemoration of the 34 striking mineworkers killed by the police in Marikana on that day.
“Workers Day must commemorate our struggle. Lonmin (Marikana) Massacre is the epitome of our struggle. 16 August must be our Workers Day. Government must declare 16 August as South African workers day in commemoration of the Lonmin Marikana massacre,” the union said in a statement on Monday.
The history of May Day or Labour Day - as it is sometimes known - began in 1884 when Canadian and American unions demanded that an eight hour work day be instituted from May 1, 1886. Ahead of the 100th anniversary, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) called for a mass stay-away on May 1, 1986 and held several rallies, despite banning orders by the apartheid government.
AMCU said that “history is dynamic” and there are “compelling grounds to review this date in line with recent experiences in our history”. The union also pointed to other countries such as the US which celebrates Labour Day in September.
“As a trade union we hold the Lonmin (Marikana) Massacre in the same logical plane as the Soweto Uprising and the Sharpeville Massacres, just to mention a few; which have managed to symbolise the youth and human rights struggles of our country. It is this symbolism that gives meaning and relevance, within context, to a public holiday for whatever purpose.”
AMCU shot to prominence in the aftermath of Marikana in 2012 and is currently the majority union on the Platinum Belt.
Cosatu will hold its main rally on Tuesday in Nelson Mandela Bay, Eastern Cape with smaller events planned around the country.
The South African Federation of Trade Union (Saftu) will commemorate Workers Day in Bloemfontein while general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi will address a smaller rally in Nelson Mandela Bay.
Treat Ramaphosa like Zuma
President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to receive a warm welcome by Cosatu members in Nelson Mandela Bay on Tuesday. Former President Jacob Zuma was prevented from speaking at the Workers Day event in 2017 by a jeering crowd who wanted him to resign.
“If Cosatu was consistent they would use the same principle approach to review the address by the current State President; a champion in neo-liberal minimum wage as well as oppressive labour relations amendments and a conflicted Lonmin (Marikana) Massacre associate who is yet to tender his apology”, AMCU said.
Ramaphosa was a Lonmin non-executive board member in 2012 and famously asked the police to use “concomitant action” against striking mineworkers. He was cleared of wrongdoing by the Farlam Commission of Inquiry.
Despite AMCU’s affiliation to National Council of Trade Unions, one of the federations represented at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), the union disagrees with its parent body’s stance on the National Minimum Wage and labour law changes.
“Discussions at Nedlac, with labour formations that only represent less than a third of the working class in South Africa have sought to sustain a hegemonic narrative that seeks to undermine the right to strike and sustain slave wages”.
AMCU further questioned the rationale behind amendments to the Labour Relations Act which will allow advisory arbitration in the case of strikes deemed to be violent or damaging to the economy.
“In dealing with the issue of duration in strikes and violence in strikes, these champions of Neo-Liberal policies espoused by Nedlac, failed to look at options to introduce a duty to bargain on all employers as was the case pre-1994 and introduce bans to scab labour which provokes violence in strikes.”
Saftu - the only large labour federation outside of Nedlac- held a one day stay-away last Wednesday demanding a higher minimum wage and the scrapping of changes to the labour laws.
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