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May Day relevance dimming as number of workers declines

Instead of innovating and finding a creative way of retaining members, workers unions are fighting against change, which is inevitable, the writer says.
Instead of innovating and finding a creative way of retaining members, workers unions are fighting against change, which is inevitable, the writer says.
Image: Alaister Russell

May 1 marked Workers' Day. All the trade unions, including Cosatu and Saftu, celebrated the day. Interestingly, at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in the North West, Amcu joined Cosatu to observe the day. President Cyril Ramaphosa was at the stadium to address workers.

However, workers rejected Ramaphosa and demanded that he go. He tried to sweet talk them but they did not budge. He was eventually whisked away. The EFF also marked the day and its leader, Julius Malema, announced that the Red Berets are working on establishing a workers' union. Is there space for another trade union?

There is no easy answer. The pertinent question is: is May Day still relevant, in this day and age, where the number of workers has declined significantly? I suppose so. For as long as we still have workers, the day remains relevant.

However, we are living in a different era, where the nature of work has changed. Technology has taken over and robots are replacing warm bodies in certain disciplines. That's the direction the world is taking. This is the era of consultants and freelancers as opposed to full-time employees. This poses a serious challenge to the unions.

Consultants and freelancers do not form part of the unions. That means the number of union members will continue to shrink. Unions don't seem to be preparing for the future. Instead of innovating and finding a creative way of retaining members, they are fighting against change, which is inevitable.

Their future looks bleak. It is clear that the significance of May Day, or Workers' Day, will decline with time, as it already has. The day might even cease to be a public holiday. That's the reality we have to face and accept.

Thabile Mange, Mogale City

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