The International Workers’ Day is the ultimate celebration of the international labour movement. It was the Second International of Socialist and Labour congress, held in Paris in 1889, that declared 1 May as the date to commemorate the union struggle and tribute for Chicago martyrs who went on strike on 1 May 1886 to demand an eight-hour workday and better workplace conditions. It had close to 200,000 workers on strike.
The most critical point of this struggle journey took place at Chicago’s Haymarket riot on May 4, when more than 20,000 workers gathered in Haymarket Square were repressed by 180 police officers. Chicago massacre cost many workers and unionists’ lives. There is no precise number, but there were many casualties, fired, arrested, prosecuted, bullet wounded and tortured people.
One hundred and twenty two years later, the essence for which workers fought in 1886 is still alive. The so called labour flexibility is the support neoliberals have to do away with labour rights, it is still taking the workers lives, furthermore, the impunity for those who breach law, legalization of the breach, persecution and punishment for those who are in favour.
Nowadays, labour deregulation affects directly the right to organization and collective employment agreement. Unionization rates continue decreasing in Latin America and the Caribbean. The number of workers under collective employment agreement in our sector is still low, since our industries are on the side of outsourcing and temporal employment. According to the ILO 2007 Labour Overview, the building industry kept the same employment rate than in 2005 and 2006, but it “maintains a slight trend to increase” in comparison with its participation in 1995. We consider this “slight trend to increase” is ephemeral, since employment is not permanent and even they are performed in many countries without any care for safety and health condition. Some days ago we celebrated the World Day for Health and Safety at Work. The building industry as well as the timber industry are the two activities with the highest risk of accidents. Do not mention social safety coverage and pension regime. According to what ILO 2007 Labour Overview reports “a high percentage of employed people lack of social safety coverage and the benefits related to employment”, employment in informal sectors “is highly precarious and is usually unprotected, while there is little chance of being supervised by competent authorities”.
This situation is tragedy for our industries, because union organizations have little hope to reverse nowadays situation on their own, even though when they are daily losing members and therefore undermining themselves. On that matter, Regional BWI wants to highlight the urgent need for Union Trades joint work so as to strengthen the labour sector by building up strong representative organizations, with authority to negotiate with governments, national and multinational companies.
Rescue a renewed unionism, with innovative and democratic methods, with the aim of reaching the unorganized workers, discouraged and disappointed by unions which do meet neither their needs nor their interests. We are living very difficult moments in our society, where being organized is a must to face the current crisis.
The BWI Regional Office which I represent wants to greet everyone and more than that, it is a thought that may lead us into action and proposal. We wish a spirited Mayday, out of celebration standards, expressing the feeling of unionism power in the streets, the feeling that 122 years ago Chicago workers passed on us.
LONG LIVE MAYDAY! LONG LIVE THE MARTYRS WHO STRUGGLED FOR UNION RIGHTS IN LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN!
Carlos Roberto Salguero Álvarez
Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean.
BWI Building and Wood Workers International.
Panama, 1 May 2008