May Day Distress Over Workers’ Day

Namibian workers regard Workers’ Day as ‘a day of rest’ or ‘a day off’ with some truly confounded when asked what significance the day holds for them personally.

“What is May Day? What is that? You mean Thursday… it is a holiday,” was the response of bricklayer Natangue Hauwanga yesterday, while taking a break from his job at a construction site in Windhoek. He is just one of the many workers who in a New Era street poll conducted last week either expressed ignorance or indifference about International Workers’ Day. Yesterday trade union leaders and labour experts were not surprised at all when presented with the workers’ responses. They were nevertheless at pains to explain that such general attitude among workers should not be interpreted to mean Workers’ Day has lost its meaning among Namibian workers. “Has May Day lost its meaning? I do not think so. I think we have lost the real use of the day itself. We are in a state where an injury to one is no longer an injury to all. We need to find more creative ways on how we can make May Day relevant once more,” said the Director of the Labour Resource and Research Institute (LaRRI), Hilma Shindondola-Mote, adding that the commemoration of Workers’ Day tends to reflect on the state of workers and trade unionism in the country. The focus now, she says, should be to regain the trust of workers and to convince younger workers about the importance of trade unions.

National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) acting secretary general Job Munjaro too was not surprised to learn that many workers attach very little significance to the day. “I would not be even surprised if you tell me that 80 percent of the workers do not know about the existence of Workers’ Day,” he added. “This is the reason we have been shifting the day to different towns in the country, to sensitise workers about the day.”

Shindondola-Mote said in the past “it used to be a normal image to see workers walking from all corners of the city to meet and celebrate May Day, proudly wearing their trade union attires. These days it is difficult to get even 1000 workers together.”

Times have changed though, she says, hence the need to “do self-introspection to find out where we went wrong in terms of May Day gatherings.” In commemoration of the struggles and achievements of the international labour movement, Namibian workers are scheduled to gather at Katima Mulilo for the main May Day event to be addressed by Prime Minster Hage Geingob, while Deputy Minister of Defence Peter Iilonga will address workers at another gathering in Walvis Bay on the same day. The theme of this year’s celebration is “Maintaining Productivity Sustained by Mutual Dialogue.” The day is commemorated as International Workers’ Day in more than 80 percent of countries in the world.

However, zeal for the day among Namibian workers has fizzled out, with many saying they would be spending the day resting at home. “Yes, I am aware of the day, but what can we as security guards celebrate? How can we celebrate Workers’ Day, while we are working more than fifteen hours a day for less than N$1000 a month,” a female security guard in Windhoek commented. According to Shindondola-Mote the day is supposed to be one for workers to come together and to celebrate the fact that they are the creators of wealth in any society. “It is supposed to be preceded by a events or rallies where workers talk to each other about issues affecting them as workers,” she said.

Source : New Era