President Uhuru Kenyatta is currently leading Kenyans in marking labour day celebrations.
The day that is marked every year is aimed at educating workers and labourers about their rights.
It is an important day because labour is at the core of any work. The event being held at Nyayo Stadium in Nairobi has been organised by Central Organization of Trade Union (COTU).
With the high inflation and a rise in fuel prices, Kenyans are hoping the President will announce a minimum wage increase that was last reviewed in 2018.
COTU is pushing for a 26pc increase to cushion workers from the high cost of living.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi declared Monday a public holiday in observance of Labour Day.
In a statement, the Interior CS stated that the full observance of the day celebrated by workers across the nation will be commemorated on that day as May 1 falls on a Sunday.
- Labour Day has a unique history dating back to 1st May 1886 when trade unions in the United States of America decided to go on strike demanding that workers should not be allowed to work for more than 8 hours a day.
- The strike was followed by a bomb blast in Chicago’s Haymarket Square popularly known as “Haymarket affair” on the 4th of May 1886 making May 1st to become one of the most significant dates in the workers’ history and was earmarked to celebrate and honour the contribution of working men and women.
- These protests were instrumental in establishing the 8-hour work day in the world and since then, the 1st of May is celebrated as the International Labour Day in many counties across the world.
- Here in Kenya, this history of Labour Day and by large the Labour Movement was equally not an easy one having evolved through difficult situations created mainly by the then colonial government which persistently defended employers in order to avoid seeing a strongly organized trade union of workers.
- However, with the pressure mounting in the British colonies, there was a change of attitude by our colonial masters and this resulted in the enactment of the 1937 trade unions’ Ordinance in Kenya and the move led to the formation of various Unions in this country.
- The situation continued to grow tense and Makhan Singh organized the Asian Railway Trade Union in which he openly associated himself with Africans despite the existence of colour and racial discrimination.
- The situation grew from bad to worse and in 1947; a general strike of 15,000 out of the 20,000 workers in Mombasa was organized which left the entire city of Mombasa paralyzed and 400 people arrested.
- The strike led by the late Chege Kibachia, who was leading the African Workers Federation that was later renamed the current Transport and Allied Workers Union and was also a close ally of the late Makhan Singh, it spread across the country and the crude efforts by government to contain the striking workers that ran from 13th to 25th January 1947, left three workers killed.
- With the emergence of more unions, a national trade union center was formed called the Kenya Federation of Registered Trade Unions in 1952 with the late Aggrey Minya as the Secretary General and later became Kenya Federation of Labour, a precursor of the Central Organization of Trade Unions, COTU (K).
- However, the 1952 declaration of a State of Emergence by the colonial government caused a great setback in the trade union movement considering near all its leaders in the labour movement were arrested and detained for allegedly being associated with Mau Mau.
- Your Excellency, I must mention at this point that Africa, Asia and Latin America attained their independence through the struggle of Trade Unionists.
- In our history Your Excellency, let me remember a few trade unionists who fought alongside our freedom fighters including our founding father of this Nation Mzee Jomo Kenyatta who was part of the Local Government Workers Union now the County Government Workers Union and those were Makhan Singh, Chege Kibachia, Aggrey Minya, Tom Joseph Mboya, Fred Kubai, Vicky Wachira, Ratib Hussein, Pio Gama Pinto, Ochola Ogaye Mark’Anyengo, Martin Shikuku, Clement Lubembe and Dennis Akumu were instrumental in attaining our independence.
- Across Africa, trade unionist John Tetgar of Ghana, Ahmed Tilil of Tunisia, Paul Humphrey Lwande of Uganda, Rashid Kawawa of Tanzania, Abdoulaye Diallo of Guinea Conakry, Dempa Diop of Mali, Jay Naiduu and Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa who is now the current President all fought for our Continent’s total independence through the trade union movement.
- It was until 1963 that the founding father of our nation Mzee Jomo Kenyatta declared this day 1st May to be celebrated as the international Labour Day together with the international community.