The Guardian • Issue #2052

May Day gathers strength

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2052
May Day rally Fremantle.


May Day celebrations and protests across Australia have concluded, held across every state and territory as well as many regional centres. May Day is a public holiday in the Northern Territory and Queensland, other states and centres hold May Day events on the weekend before or after May.

Unions and left and progressive forces are the traditional backbone of May Day actions. Nationally reports have been positive with numbers up in most centres. Considering our wall-to-wall ALP governments, it is a good outcome for the movement (only Tasmania has a Liberal – i.e. conservative – government).

Two May Day events stand out this year, both in NSW, and less than a 90-minute journey apart. They both warrant analysis and recognition.

In Sydney, May Day was held on 1st May. This is a change from the usual practice, and has arisen from a struggle around the date within the Sydney movement. The “May 1 Movement” was created to achieve this end and has succeeded. This movement has been led out of the Maritime Union of Australia and the CFMEU Construction division, along with left-wing activists, organisations, and the CPA. For several years now the CFMEU and the MUA have stopped jobs on 1st May to participate in the March. This led to two May Day events being held in Sydney for a period.

Those forces this year were able to move the traditional May Day Committee to adopt 1st May as the official day for May Day in Sydney. This in itself is an important development. Further adding to the significance of the event, ports were closed down and construction sites ground to a halt across Sydney. The CFMEU and the MUA were this time joined by the electricians (ETU) and Plumbers Unions (PPTE) with significant numbers of other unions, along with the peak union body, Unions NSW, supporting the 1st May event.

Striking workers in Sydney have changed the character of the traditional May Day march. Not only was the march large, but it was also militant in its character and demands. Under the previous Liberal government, New South Wales introduced anti-protest laws. The recently elected Labor government has not moved to repeal them. The MUA delegation marched, without permits, from its office in a direct challenge to the laws, to the main gathering in Belmore Park. The marchers were not challenged despite a significant police presence.

The main march proceeded to Hyde Park, where demonstrators had been previously told the park would be off-limits to further actions. Again, there was no challenge to these actions, nor could there have been due to the size of the march.

The anti-protest laws were left in tatters. High on the list of other demands was the removal of all anti-union legislation, and an outright opposition to war and the AUKUS pact.

As a result, it was one of the most significant May Day Events in Sydney for a long time. Further to this, it was agreed by the Sydney movement to support the South Coast event being held on 6th May in Port Kembla. Port Kembla has been nominated as a site for a nuclear submarine base.

Port Kembla is a southern suburb of Wollongong, the most densely unionised town in Australia. The announcement of a nuclear base in the area has rocked Wollongong and its Southern Port Kembla residents. There is a clear choice for the area to be either a nuclear base and become part of the military industrial complex, or to become a vibrant centre for renewable energy and in particular offshore wind. There’s only one choice as the two can’t coincide and the people of Wollongong have clearly chosen the path of renewables and not war.

The Port Kembla May Day march was spectacular. Thousands filled the streets in what could have been the largest ever demonstration held in the area. A convoy from Sydney travelled down to Port Kembla, and supporters from as far afield as Adelaide and Melbourne attended. Crowds marched down the streets chanting “Submarines will kill the poor – No to AUKUS, No to War!” and “One struggle one fight, workers of the world unite” amongst many other progressive anti-war campaign slogans. The campaign on the South Coast has been in full swing since the AUKUS submarine base announcement, and the union movement and community has been rock solid in unity opposing the destruction of the possible renewable future and its replacement with war machines.

These two May Day marches reflect a positive development in the militancy of the working-class and broader labour movement. They are examples to follow for the movement in other locations, especially under Labor Governments who have continued a drive to war and have jumped solidly into bed with US and UK imperialism.

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