The Guardian • Issue #2050


May Day 2023: What do we march for?

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2050

1889 is a long way behind us, and the first May Day commemoration honouring the workers killed and wounded in the Haymarket confrontation in Chicago is something most people would have to look up. But there is no need to delve into the past to look for reasons to gather and to march on May Day 2023. Last week’s statement from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Australia put it like this:

On May Day we pay tribute to all those workers who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the struggle for workers’ rights.

That struggle continues. Since the first march to commemorate May Day, workers have marched to remember the fallen and to continue the fight. The issues we are fighting for change over time, but the cause, solidarity with workers in Australia and around the world remains the same.

We march to remember the fallen, from those first demonstrators in Chicago, killed and injured while supporting the strike for an eight-hour work day.

Australia has played a proud part in that particular achievement, and Melbourne comrades will gather at the Eight Hour Day monument outside Trades Hall, both on May Day itself and at the official Trades Hall May Day event. As one historian put it, the eight-hour day movement showed Australian workers they could “successfully organise, mobilise, agitate, and exercise significant control over working conditions and quality of life.”

Not only is it possible, it’s vital that we organise, mobilise, and agitate, and not just “exercise significant control” over working conditions, but work towards taking control over working conditions and the means of production which determine them.

Capitalism is often divided into two kinds in most of the Australian media. There is the bad old kind of capitalism which involved dark satanic mills and inhumane working conditions. That’s safely in the past. Then there’s nice progressive modern capitalism which brings us all manner of convenience and consumer goods. The struggle against the old, bad capitalism is a victory that is firmly in the past, like a war that we won. Unions like to point out that they won the weekend.

Working people know that this is a false distinction.  Capital is a moving target and the struggle against it is ongoing. When we celebrate May Day, we do it knowing that none of the victories achieved by workers are safe. All need to be fought for now.

Take the eight-hour day. It was stonemasons working at Melbourne University who downed tools and marched on Parliament in support of it. That same university today, along with other universities around the country, is facing serious claims of wage theft, something universities in Australia seem to have built into their business model along with obscene salaries for Vice Chancellors. Don’t work at a university? Capital is coming for your conditions and your hours of leisure too. Australian employer organisations never ever stop calling for the abolition of penalty rates, which embody the weekends that unions are so proud of achieving.

The Communist Party of Australia understands full well that capital never stops moving. As the CPA executive statement pointed out last week, real wages in Australia are falling while corporations in Australia post record profits.

In 2023, we’re meeting and marching for working conditions and for life conditions. The capitalist system in Australia is not only conducting an onslaught against working conditions and incomes. Through inadequate carbon emissions reduction schemes and through putting our money towards preparing for war, capital and its servants in Australia are endangering life itself.  Anyone who thinks this is too dramatic is invited to cast their minds back to the 2019-20 bushfires, the worst in Australia’s history. The air in four Australian cities was not safely breathable. Now look at today. We have a government that is spending chicken feed on looking like they want to do something on climate change, and more money than any Australian government has ever spent on anything on some submarines.

We meet on May Day to remember past victories for working people, and to work for the victories we need now, in 2023. Join us.

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