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Originally born from the protracted struggle for workers’ rights and social justice of the late 1800s, Workers’ Day has been an international holiday in many countries since 1891. South Africa is a country with its own long and sordid history of labour and social conflicts.

Workers’ Day has been officially recognised and observed since the first democratic elections in 1994. The holiday serves as a celebration of workers’ rights and a reminder of the critical role that trade unions, the Communist Party, and other labour organisations played in the fight against Apartheid.


This international holiday is observed on May 1st. It is most commonly associated with a commemoration of the achievements of the labour movement. The holiday may also be known as International Worker’s Day or May Day and is marked as a public holiday in over 80 countries.

Workers’ Day in South Africa holds its cultural significance. The public holiday has come to signify the sacrifices made on the long road toward fair employment standards and the bitter battle against Apartheid in which trade and labour unions played a key role.

Because South Africa’s working classes were those most oppressed by Apartheid, the struggle for better working conditions and the effort to overthrow systemic segregation became closely linked. Before the elections of 1994, labour and trade groups often used Workers’ Day as a symbol to rally the population against the segregation and oppression of the Apartheid system, organising demonstrations and widespread encouraging resistance.

Workers’ Day is a special reminder of the valuable contribution made by the working class. May we continue to acknowledge their contributions on Workers’ Day and every other day.

Author: SAC Online

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