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Workers' Day


On 1 May 2019: Recognising workers' rights for more than 100 years

International Workers' Day or Labour Day stems back more than 100 years. Workers' Day was inspired by the Haymarket Affair. The demonstrations, riots and political awakenings for the past 100 years, across countries, can be traced back to the Haymarket Affair. Also known as the Haymarket Massacre. What started out as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour day, ended in tragedy. The scene was described as “wild carnage” and estimated fifty dead or wounded civilians, with many civilians afraid to seek medical help fearing arrest.

The Haymarket massacre, widely considered as the origin of workers day, inspired subsequent activists and has afforded us human and worker rights, and fair employment standards.

The first recorded celebration of May Day in South Africa is reported to have taken place in 1814. In 1910, all sections of the labour movement embarked on a May Day procession, with a mood of international worker solidarity, recognising the neglect of African workers. It became a significant day to mobilise resistance to apartheid. The May Day strike of 1950, culminated in carnage, parallel to the Haymarket Affair, with police violence and the death of 18 people in Soweto.

In South Africa, Workers' Day has been celebrated as a national public holiday since 1996. Prior to 1996, trade unions rallied for the annual observance of the day as a public holiday.

While we celebrate Workers' Day, we should take a solemn moment to remember the violence, executions and struggles associated with 01 May and honour, the courage and victory of our forefathers.


Premier Foods was the first large business to declare 01 May a holiday for its’ workers.

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