May Day should help working people to remember the past, understand the present and assist building the future.
In Australia, May Day came from the battle for the eight-hour day. Its international observation was born out of the Haymarket massacre in the United States. In both cases, there is clear association with the rise of trade unions the efforts of employers to resist the improvement of the conditions of the worker, as well as the state’s efforts to limit, and if possible, destroy basic union rights.
Today, major employers and governments are waging war against the worker, more intensely than anything that has been experienced for over half a century.
Union organisation and membership have declined and to survive, unions must turn this around.
The challenge takes its own forms in Australia. The Fair Work Act makes illegal, almost any form of union activity that directly effects to workplace. Disputes are not allowed to involve more than one enterprise. Union officials have no right of entry into the workplace. And the right to
Construction unions have a special law that virtually outlaws officials and members.
The little scope there is for legal industrial action, has been enveloped in so much red tape and delays, that it often makes it meaningless and to operate effectively, unions find that they must defy unfair laws.
Along with these restrictions have come the loss of relative wages and conditions the casualisation of more than a third of the workforce and the manipulation of those out of work, the disabled, single parents, and those who are supposed to be retired, into a cheap source of labour.
The ACTU led Change the Rules campaign, is already an important contribution to turning the tables.
There are also more than basic union issues at stake. The deterioration of Australia involves a political battle that is much bigger than the unions alone.
We are experiencing an ongoing economic decline. While it is true that everything hasn’t suddenly come crushing down, there has been a long period of regression, and it is getting worse. This is compounded by the threat of global warming.
The response of major employers and governments has been to put into effect, what is now often called neoliberalism.
At its basic core, this is about handing more of the wealth to the top end, under the pretence that it will lead to an investor led boom and the trickle down effect. Its failure through successive governments and rising unpopularity has led, not to a change in direction, but to a more repressive political environment.
Anti-union laws, the treatment of those on Centrelink benefits, the return to old style paternalism for Indigenous Australians, the treatment of refugees, a spate of what are called anti-terrorism laws, restrictions on what journalists can report and increasing intrusion into personal lives, are part of the same pattern.
Australia is experiencing the rise of what an increasing number of people are calling fascism, and it is the greatest political threat we face.
This is not just about a handful of nutters, with swastikas and other similar symbols, going around the streets and holding meetings. The real threat comes from a section of the monopoly media, prominent employer organisations, certain political parties and politicians, busy at the work of legitimising the core of fascism, raising its political base for it and backing this, with a more iron fisted and less compassionate form of government.
Building opposition to neoliberalism, the fascist threat and securing a better future, needs stronger unions. It also needs a broad political movement, concentrating on bringing together the maximum number of people, and organising and activating the grass roots in all parts of society, towards generating real people power, through collective decisions and action.
This is about the defence and extension of democracy. Not just the narrow definition the right to vote every few years. But the application of the will of the majority in all our shared Interests.
The present conditions provide a rare opportunity to talk about it, find common cause and take practical measures towards building the future.