May Day: Maybe the day’s significance has vanished

05 May, 2019 - 00:05 0 Views
May Day: Maybe the day’s significance has vanished max weber and karl marx

The Sunday News

Michael Mhlanga

On Wednesday the world and Zimbabwe observed Workers’ Day. As ironic or confusing as the day can be, there was no fun and fair.

While many explanations about the mood of the day exist, to many, it was a “holiday” loaded with grumps and solemn memorials of yester year when many were labourers swallowed by the industry which kept them as slaves of capitalism. Honestly, who can blame them, it’s normal to miss Egypt when you are hungry on your way to Canaan. 

They say that they are not workers

On that note, United Nations in its Sustainable Development Goals 2018 progress report argues that over the past 25 years the number of workers living in extreme poverty has declined dramatically, despite the lasting impact of the 2008 economic crisis and global recession. In developing countries, the middle class, like Zimbabwe aspires, now makes up more than 34 percent of total employment, a number that has almost tripled to date. However, as the global economy continues to recover there is slower growth, widening inequalities, and not enough jobs to keep up with a growing labour force.

Here are some quick facts to ponder on after May Day. The United Nations in 2018 said as a result of an expanding labour force, the number of unemployed is projected to increase by 1 million every year. The report also states that some 700 million workers lived in extreme or moderate poverty in 2018, with less than US$3,20 per day while women’s participation in the labour force stood at 48 per cent in 2018, compared with 75 percent for men. Around 3 in 5 of the 3,5 billion people in the labour force in 2018 were men.

Guiding the reflections of May 1 2019 and Zimbabwe’s upper-middle class status aspiration, I reflect on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number eight which imagines decent work and economic growth in UN member states and the world. The SDGs promote sustained economic growth, higher levels of productivity and technological innovation. Encouraging entrepreneurship and job creation are key to this, as are effective measures to eradicate forced labour, slavery and human trafficking. With these targets in mind, the goal is to achieve full and productive employment, and decent work, for all women and men by 2030, ironically Zimbabwe’s target. Achievement of this status is a product of the efforts of the working class, but the debacle we now face is of identifying the “real” working class and acknowledging their existence.

2019 Day: Who is the real worker and what is the real meaning of the day?

After seeing the depressing turnout at Stanley Square in Bulawayo, I questioned where the rest of the workers are. A couple of conversation on the matter repeatedly bellowed two answers: 1- There is nothing to celebrate. 2- There are no workers in Zimbabwe. The responses to my question are true when innocently and passively decoded, but analysis of the two prove that they are both wrong.


1: 1 May was never meant to be a celebration, it’s a memorial for American proletariats who were massacred by their own in 1886. It’s also a campaign by communists and socialists to annually challenge private capitalism and propose labour policies. In fact this day is more significant when bourgeoisies-proletariat class divisions and conflicts are extant. Why then are we not remodeling it?

2: The concept of a worker is not limited to the medieval definition of the long ago and 19th century proletariat who sustained capitalism, on whom Max Weber designed scientific bureaucracy in industry. Globalisation and its politics have borne a larger working class that is independent, self-determined from the bondage of an “employee”, self-employed, innovative, whom less progressive societies refer to as informal sectors. The reference of “informal” of the sector is derogatory itself because economies like ours are sustained by that sector — we ought to respect them. Those are the people who should have been at Stanley Square, discussing “a new meant” Workers’ Day.

Although the idea of the May Day has potential to be re-characterised, it is important to remember its conception and what it originally means. 

One May was chosen to be International Workers’ Day to commemorate the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago. The Haymarket Affair, also known as the Haymarket Massacre or Riot as some choose to call it, was the aftermath of a bombing that took place at a labour demonstration on May 4, 1886 at Haymarket Square in Chicago, USA, the pinnacle of capitalism. History says that police came intending to disperse the crowd that was listening to speeches and an unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at the police, and the bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians; and dozens of others wounded. 

The birth of the day did not only point to demanding octo-working hours or commemorating the bloodbath in the heart of capitalism-Chicago USA, but called on all labour movements to demonstrate on May 1 and abscond work in defiance and protest. In its philosophy, the day is a favourite of communists and Social Democratic parties. Born from a poster that had an anarchist inscription that read:

“Working men Arm Yourselves and Appear in Full Force!” To which the great speaker August Spies refused to speak. 

The day was born from a strike in 1886 that initially instigated violence and unfortunately resulted in deaths of workers. The strike was addressed by August Spies an American upholsterer, radical labour activist and newspaper editor, Albert Parsons another newspaper editor, and Samuel Fielden  a Methodist pastor, indeed a cocktail of the most powerful officers in the world. 

However, there are lessons to be learnt from a diligent newspaper editor and labour activist, August Spies who upon seeing the inscriptions on the poster, refused to speak unless changed and said:

“There seems to prevail the opinion in some quarters that this meeting has been called for the purpose of inaugurating a riot, hence these warlike preparations on the part of so-called ‘law and order.’ However, let me tell you at the beginning that this meeting has not been called for any such purpose. The object of this meeting is to explain the general situation of the eight-hour movement and to throw light upon various incidents in connection with it.”

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