By Nana Kwesi Gyan Apenteng, Veteran Writer
Today is May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day. It is celebrated on May 1st every year, and observed as a holiday in most countries around the world.
In Ghana, it is customary for the government and the labour movement to organize parades and other events to commemorate the occasion, but it is doubtful that most people know the significance of May Day, or whether it is still relevant today.
May Day has a militant history and its traditions are deeply rooted in workers struggles in the 19th and 20th centuries. The day itself commemorates the Hay market affair in Chicago in 1886 when several workers lost their lives in a demonstration over pay and working conditions. Their main demand was for an eight-hour workday.
In several parts of the world, workers and their organizations have been at the forefront of the struggle for socio-economic improvements in living conditions.
In Ghana and most African countries, trade unions were part of the coalition of forces that fought for independence.
Today, May Day symbolizes the triumph of the agitation for workers rights, which have become part of the foundation of human rights and good governance in countries where these concepts are respected.
However, some people question whether May Day is relevant in an era in which trade union militancy is only of historical interest.
It is not difficult to answer in the affirmative because workers’ rights are still being violated and work and pay conditions in most parts of the world fall far below decent. Workers face unsafe and unhealthy conditions at work, including racism, sexism, unequal pay, discrimination, lack of health and safety guarantees, and other hostilities and inadequacies.
May Day reminds us that the fight for workers’ rights is far from over and that we must continue to struggle for better pay and conditions of work.
Moreover, May Day is also relevant because it highlights the importance of collective action. As a rule, workers succeed in their demands when they act together. This is why some corporate bosses and business owners are against the labour movement. By standing in solidarity with one another, workers can achieve more than they could individually.
May Day also reminds us that change comes only through protest. There is no record anywhere of change coming without a strong protest movement and workers are critical in any protest movement every where.
Again, May Day prompts us to celebrate workers and their contribution to the development of our economies and societies. We often see business tycoons and CEOs being lionized while their workers languish in the doldrums of poverty and despair. There can be no wealth creation without workers.
With the cost of living crises causing economic havoc; with corruption standing as a barrier against progress on all fronts; as unemployment is driving many young people towards depression; as environmental vandalism threatens our very existence; as a new and even more corrosive Cold War poses an immediate danger of thermonuclear war; trade unions must let their voices be heard for democracy, social, economic, and environmental justice, equality, and peace.