“We all got it wrong!” my friend told me over the phone after he saw the 6 o’clock news on TV.
The Queensland Council of Unions. All the unions. The ALP. The Greens. The Left. We all marched on the wrong day! Sunday 5th of May.
I marched with comrades as we held our ‘Workers of all countries unite!’ banner. We have done this since marching against Bjelke-Petersen’s street march ban on May Day 1978, 35 years ago.
We arrived at the exhibition ground and after our yearly sausage at the union tent we went to hear Julia Gillard give her last hurrah in the entertainment tent.
We heard how Julia stands for Queensland. We heard the opposition leader, Annastacia Palaszczuk, tell us that selling off public assets is wrong. The irony of her speech did not escape us, still smarting from Labor’s privatisation of Queensland Rail.
When Annastacia said that Labor stood for ‘Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!’ we remembered the railway workers and the people in the railway towns that lost their jobs under Labor. We remembered the local government workers who lost their jobs when Labor amalgamated the shire councils. We remember how jobs were cut when Labor privatised the Commonwealth bank and began the privatisation of Telstra.
We heard about the great tradition of May Day. Annastacia told us the workers united will never be defeated.
John Battams from the Queensland Council of Unions told us that we are part of a wider movement; David Oliver, from the Australian Council of Trade Unions told us how the Tories had sacked 14,000 public sector workers. That the Tories had prevented us from collective bargaining in our union. We remembered too that Bob Carnegie has been tried under Labor’s Fair Work Australia legislation. That Bob may be jailed fr being in contempt of that legislation.
We saw how Socialist Alternative (SA) had a good heckling session against the hypocrisy of Julia Gillard – their placards read ‘they say cutback, we say fightback’ and ‘fund decent education, health and welfare, tax the rich!’; members of ‘Together’ union slugged out their differences toe-to-toe arguing over Labor’s record; but in the end, John Battams ran off-stage. Was it to organise the Independent Education Union to counter the SA? Regardless the Independent Teachers did bring in their placards from the IEU tent out back saying ‘Campbell-Newman can’t smash Workcover’ thus out-manoeuvering Socialist Alternative by blanking out the smaller SA placards.
It was noticeable how the building unions were absent from the entertainment tent – sure, they marched on Sunday. The QCU’s John Battams told us that there was only one person between us and the Tory policies of Tony Abbott, and that was Julia Gillard.The Prime Minister emerged as if out of a birthday cake.
As Julia spoke against Campbell Newman’s cuts the building workers sat around their tent in the exhibition grounds and organised their own march on the first Monday in May.
Julia Gillard had made her pitch for the federal election in September, and after Ron Monaghan gave the ETU the award for the best contingent, the Labor faithful left the tent; they had come to hear Julia and weren’t interested in hearing the union choir sing the familiar refrain:
When the union's inspiration through the workers' blood shall run, There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun; Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one, But the union makes us strong. Solidarity Forever
After many false starts, the battle for May Day was finally on, and the building workers, unannounced and unheralded, marched down Ann Street to challenge the LNP ban on the May Day march on the first Monday in May – a ban that Bjelke-Petersen never tried, even in his hey day.
What will it be next year?
Will the international struggle of the workers be on the 1st of May?
Or will it be on the first Monday in May?
One thing is sure, for those workers who will feel the lash of austerity under Tory rule: ‘those who dare to struggle, dare to win.’
7 May 2013
- Julia rallies faithful (and not so faithful) (dailytelegraph.com.au)