Tuesday, May 02, 2006

May Day and the rise of Worker’s political influence

Yesterday we all joined workers to mark solidarity between workers from all nationalities in the world. For some, the celebration of the worker’s day is a remainder of the exploitation that workers have gone through over in past communist societies. For others, May Day is a reminder to the ruling classes that their days are numbered.

In South Africa, labor talks have been dominated by strikes organized by security guards and bus driver’s unions. Deaths and material damages that accompanied security guards protests raised some voices on the extent of the right to strike workers should be given. DA Tony Leon holds union’s leaders accountable for the losses. On the other hand, the business view is that this simply worsens the situation with a South African labor market not flexible enough to meet the requirements of economic globalization. Thus for businesses, strikes aggravate the situation by causing the economy loose billions.

On the international scene, celebrations of the worker’s day took different forms:

  • In US, where May 1 is usually a working ( worker’s day there is in September) , concerns to protect the basic rights of immigrants made the working class boycott work and go on the streets to support the National Immigrant Boycott. That was as a way of appreciating the economic, social and cultural contributions of immigrants;
  • In South Korea workers have been demanding better working conditions;
  • In DRC, union’s leaders have been sensitizing the working class on a rational vote for the July elections, asking workers to cast their votes only for those concerned with worker’s well being,
  • In Angola, workers have been demanding an increase of the minimum wage, when in France, after celebrating their success for defeating a government labor policy last month, unions have called for more pressure to make government concede more to their demands;
  • In Russia unions have been calling to protest against low wages and poverty, when Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki ordered an increase of 12 percent in the minimum wage for non-farm workers and 11 percent for farm workers.

Labor is something that affects our daily lives. Yet, the current pace of global production has seen shrinking work opportunities and increasing exclusion from formal work such as: informalization, casualization, outsourcing etc. Besides that, some other patterns have been developing at the expense of workers and the society at large: retrenchment, poor working conditions, sweatshops, child labor, and child soldiers.

In order to meet promises they made during their electoral campaign , some governments simply decided to give tax holidays and preferential conditions to MNCs and attract FDI. Most of the time, these deals have been made at the expense of workers. As a result, worker’s unions are have been confronted with some challenges that force them to find solutions out of their traditional areas of intervention.

One of those solutions has been the involvement in political activity. Labor parties have emerged as a serious political actor to count with, producing some well-known head of states and governments:

  • Tony Blair in UK, spreading the trend in European;
  • Ex Zambian president F Chilluba, not convincing enough to influence worker’s primacy in the African political scene;
  • Current Brazilian president Lula for Latin America;
  • Cosatu, member of the tripartite alliance in South Africa.

My view is that, an increased involvement of workers in public affairs may play not only a buffer role to political greed and mismanagement but also a crucial role to make our lands better places for all.

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