Please allow me space in your widely read newspaper to express my opinion on an issue so dear to my heart .It is 127 years ago when approximately 35,000 workers walked off their jobs, demanding the standardisation of eight-hour work days. It was known as the Haymarket Riots. Many labour historians point to this day in U.S. history as the inception of the International Worker’s Day, commonly referred to as May Day.
As we prepare to mark the International Worker’s Day, I would like to seize this opportunity to remind all workers in The Gambia and around the world to once again reiterate their commitment and dedication to the service of humanity.
Employee-employer relations have become a very contentious issue taking its roots from the epoch of class exploitation that Karl Marx was talking about in the height of capitalist greed. The class system created stratification in the working industry and by extension the society, as the owners of production became known as the ‘bourgeoisie’ while the workers who toil and hustle under agonising conditions were known as the ‘proletariats’. This situation was indeed a very dreadful one as the rights of workers at the time were not guaranteed. Concerned by the plight of workers, Karl Marx totally was totally against the system and further went on to predict the onset of the “Proletariat revolution” which will witness the end of the exploitation by the bourgeoisie and the immediate rise to power of the working class.
However, the celebration of International Worker’s Day is a time for us to reflect on the plight of workers and once again honour the sacrifices made by those who invariably put their lives at stake just to see the workers free from the injustices they face in their places of work. The day is also geared towards promoting harmonious and cordial relations among workers around the world.
In the case of our country, The Gambia, the inexorable efforts by Edward Francis Small was evident when he stood firm and boldly opposed the horrendous conditions workers were subjected to in this country. He came up with the famous slogan, “No taxation without representation”. This was a difficult moment for workers and native people as they were obliged to pay tax but had no proper say in the affairs of their own country. Edward Francis Small became a trade unionist who fought for the rights of workers in The Gambia and his efforts need to be recognised.
However, in order to improve employee-employer relations, both parties need to work in an environment of mutual respect and cooperation. Workers need better wages; they need better working hours and better working conditions. They must not be taken for granted but instead they deserve respect from their employees. Perpetrators of exploitation in working places should be brought to justice.I cannot conclude without quoting Joe Hill who said:
Workers of the world, awaken!
Rise in all your splendid might
Take the wealth that you are making,
It belongs to you by right.
No one will for bread be crying
We’ll have freedom, love and health,
When the grand red flag is flying
In the Workers’ Commonwealth.
By Malang Jarjue,
University of The Gambia]]>