The day has been adopted for its historical origin.
Internationally it is a day on which Governments and workers organizations rally the working people across the globe to commemorate victories achieved in the struggle for improvement of the working conditions of the workers.
Botswana government also recognizes this day, and refers to the day as Workers Day, Labour Day or May Day.
In addition to celebrating improvement of their welfare and working conditions, it is also a day on which the labour unions should reflect on their successes and failures in terms of their stipulated mandate.
They should view it as a moment to evaluate what they have so far delivered on, and to chart the way forward on how they can better improve their representation of the broader working class.
For Botswana in particular, this year’s May Day has a historical significance.
It comes at a time when trade unions are grappling with ways of merging under one entity.
May Day also comes at a time when public sector unions still have to understand their new role under the changed systems.
It is only recently that a majority of public servants have been allowed to formally unionise.
The day also marks the beginning of the New Public Service Act.
This forms in no small measure, a very strong basis for celebrating the unions’ success in getting Government accede to their demand for its implementation.
As such, the development signals a paradigm shift in relations between public servants and government as their employer, a relationship that henceforth will have to slowly evolve from master/servant to equal partnerships.
In recent months, there has been a worrying trend in Botswana, where able and performing public servants were dismissed from work without reason and without even a hearing. The excuse that was given was that they were unproductive, or that they had reached voluntary retirement age.
It is generally expected that with the New Public Service Act, this anomaly will come to an end.
The fact is that government as the employer will always be uncomfortable with strong trade unions, and will always work to curtail their mobilizing ability and their bargaining power.
It is therefore disheartening to see some elements within the public service union movement playing into the hands of the employer by engaging in divisive games and trivial polemics at the expense of unity.
It is common knowledge that the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) is so far the one and only federation recognized by both the International Trade Union Council (ITUC) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), as the national workers center, whereas the Botswana Confederation of Commerce and Industry Manpower (BOCCIM) is regarded as the national employers centre.
In all their conventions, workers shout slogans like “workers unite” and “an injury to one is an injury to us all”. Such slogans should not be shouted in vain. They should have meaning.
It is only when the workers are united and speak in one voice that the employer will listen and take heed.
Our government, which has always shown disdain for improving the workers, will dismiss a polarized and weakened work force without any second thoughts. A divided workforce is very easy to manipulate. And manipulation is all that a Government which is also the biggest employer relishes.
Trade unions should not be adversaries. They must not compete amongst themselves, for they are fighting on the same side. They have a common interest.
If they persist in competing against themselves, they can only achieve one thing, impotency.
In the end, it is up to the trade union leadership to ensure that they deliver on their campaign promises. Work together for the betterment of the workers. Speak as one voice, and mobilize as many workers as possible because, in the end, your strength lies in your numbers.
As workers of Botswana commemorate their day, it is our hope that they will look forward to one day organising under one umbrella body which will sufficiently protect and defend their interests.
That day, it would seem like is still far off. But with a strong, dedicated and constructive leadership such a goal is clearly achievable.