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Issue #1905      March 2, 2020

Workers, Students and Unionists launch the May 1st Movement

On Wednesday, 19th February an audience of over sixty people constituting workers, students, unionists, and socialists gathered in the meeting room of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) Sydney offices to launch the May 1st movement. The May 1st movement is a workers’ united front for winning political strikes by broad sections of the working class and community on the 1st May every year. May first is the international workers day, and is a day of remembrance, celebration, and struggle across the whole world. This movement is emerging in a context of workers, particularly from the maritime and construction industries, taking unauthorised strike action on 1st May in Sydney for the first time in decades in recent years. The May 1st movement aims to build working class power and unity to win demands around thematic titles of workers’ rights, social justice, and climate action.

This room was addressed by a panel of speakers from the union, environment, and First Nations movements. Rita Malia, the President of the NSW CFMMEU construction division said “Our members will be going on strike on May 1st, they won’t be going to a picnic,” referencing the demobilising practice by Unions NSW of recognising May 1st on a weekend with a procession and picnic. Dennis McNamara, a delegate of the Construction division of the CFMMEU outlined the historical difficulties of bringing the union movement to a militant position of striking on May 1st. He said, “It has taken us a long time to get to this point, and we won’t give it up […] this isn’t a lunchtime rally, it is illegal industrial action.” He outlined the threats made to construction workers by the Australian Building and Construction Commission, a union busting body of the state, where they threatened to fine workers at the 2019 May 1st strike rally, but which reneged on this threat in the face of the massive defiant turnout by construction workers. Dennis encouraged workers to organise at work and within their union to strengthen them, saying “if your union leadership is weak, you must organise to make them strong” and also called for a reclamation of the Eureka flag by the working-class movement.

Paul McAleer, Secretary of the MUA Sydney Branch and member of the CPA outlined the aims, objectives, and purpose of the May 1st movement. He denounced in the strongest terms the anti-people and criminal capitalist system we live in, and legislation that aims to undermine the capacity of unions to serve the interests of their members. He said “The Fair Work Act is an act of criminality. You can’t be constrained by the law unless you accept the status quo.” He outlined the various ways in which the capitalist status quo is immoral, indefensible, and unsustainable saying “It is criminal to accept this.” He noted the divisions within the working class and among activists, and made the case that these divisions have undermined the working class for decades and facilitated the imposition of neoliberalism saying “We haven’t been able to build a movement that embraces all of the working class [...] The working class is the only force to deliver radical change.” Radical change was declared to be needed urgently to save humanity from catastrophe, and the May 1st movement is about building the links and strength within the working class to enable political general strikes to occur that will facilitate the radical change workers here and across the world urgently need.

Other speakers included the Gadigal Elder, Aunty Rhonda, who welcomed the audience to country and India from School Strike for Climate, who declared that high-school students supported the May 1st movement and 1st May strikes and also that the students had chosen 15th May as the date of the next school climate strike. Discussion occurred between the audience and panellists on how to build class unity and power and how to make the May 1st movement a success. At the conclusion of the evening a resolution endorsing the May 1st movement and calling for unity in struggle was read and endorsed by the audience. The 2020 1st May rally in Sydney will start at 11 AM at Belmore Park near Central station. All CPA members in Sydney and surrounds are called on to be part of the 1st May strikes and to participate in activities to build 1st May at work and in the community.

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