May Day: Workers of all countries Unite!

Why does union membership continue to decline?

The Communist Manifesto
The Red Contingent

Pete Seeger – L’Internationale
Billy Bragg – Internationale
Jumping Fences – Brisbane Barrio live at Foco Nuevo with intro by Lachlan Hurse


Jeff:  Ian, what year did the Red Contingent start in Brisbane Labour Day?

Ian: 1978 was the first year we carried the Red Contingent banner. There were 12,000 people behind us including the socialist parties, the Latin Americans, the Campaign Against Nuclear Power, and the Civil Liberties Coordinating committee with their Unite in opposition to State and Federal governments banner plus the anarchists and Friends of the Earth.

The Red Contingent continued to be strong until the SEQEB dispute in 1985. After that defeat, everyone seemed to be absorbed into the union contingents except an increasingly smaller group that marched at the back. We had a bit of a boost when all the wharfies were sacked by Chris Corrigan during the 1998 MUA – here to stay dispute.

Jeff:  Were you there at the Labour Day in the Vietnam era when students clashed with officials?

Ian: No, but Hughie Hamilton (former Secretary) told me that the Building Workers Industrial Union (BWIU) let them into their contingent. Nor do I think they marched as the Red Contingent.

Jeff:  There is a connection, though. After the clash, the TLC/ALP tightened control over participation and slogans. Several years later, the Red Contingent as a separate gathering at the back was in part a reaction to official exclusion of the far Left. This has been a recurring pattern in Brisbane Labour Day history going right back to the early 1920s.

Ian: Yes, we were aware of the previous history but we put the proposal for a Red Contingent to the Civil Liberties Co-ordinating committee for an alternative May Day … we proposed a march to Victoria Park across the road from the Ekka. We wanted to differentiate socialists from the Labor Party in Queensland, hence the Red Contingent. We were attacked for doing so by libertarians and sectarians. One well known ‘anarchist’ Brian Laver claimed that we represented “the authoritarian left comprising some of the most ruthless Marxists in the Western world” at a May Pole event across the road from the Exhibition grounds. A man wearing a dressing gown defended us as we played knock ’em downs with Joh Bjelke-Petersen as our main target.

Across the road inside the Ekka grounds, Dan O’Neil was trying to get a trade union speaker from Chile on the official platform and was knocked back by the Trades and Labour Council led by Fred Whitby.  We were pretty angry because that was a breach of faith by Labor Party officials with the international solidarity movement with the Chilean people who had been suffering under a military coup only four years before.

Also Tom Burns (state leader and national ALP President) complained from the official dais  that women would not come forward and participate in the labour movement.  Bill Hayden (then leader of the federal ALP opposition) said that the civil liberties (democratic rights) movement were ‘a bunch of Johnny-come-latelies‘. Amidst the mayhem, the unions had organised a giant piss-up behind the semi-trailer used as the speaking platform.

There were thugs stationed to prevent intervention. However women did storm the platform and Megan Martin from the Civil Liberties Co-ordinating committee (CLCC) spoke on the official platform with someone holding up a loud hailer so Megan could be heard after the Trades & Labour Council (TLC)) disconnected the battery for the PA.

The following year, 1979, saw the CLCC organising our own platform with thousands present … both Joe Harris and George Georges from the Socialist left of the ALP spoke from this platform over near where the kiddies rides were in those days and stalls were selling pink fairy floss. Joe Harris was beaten up later that evening as pay-back for his participation in the alternative platform.

Bowen Bridge road was the approach to the Ekka back then and was full of red flags. The first union contingent had arrived before the last of the Red Contingent had even set off from Mary St near the Exec building. It was a sight to be seen.

Jeff: Great details. Thanks, Ian.

March route for Workers of all countries Unite! on Monday 3rd May 2021

Here are a gallery of images from May Day’s of the past (click on them and see a larger version with comments:

2 thoughts on “May Day: Workers of all countries Unite!

  1. Hi Ian.

    You were conspicuous by your absence at may Day.

    Xxxx tells me the red group was banned form (sic) May Day.

    Does the include Socialist alliance, also apparently absent.

    I heard from a couple of folks about your ZZZ cancelling. Would like to hear your version sometime.

    Did you ever watch the video I sent around a while back, and interview between Jimmy Dore and Glenn Greenwald?

    I think Xxxx said you had marched a the back of May Day for 40 years.

    You did much better than Anne’s Feminists for Life group which only lasted one year in the 80’s😊


    1. Hello Jim,

      I marched in my old union on May Day, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU). It is the first time since 1977 I have not marched in a Red Contingent. [There was no May Day in 2020 because of COVID19]. I joined my first union in 1967 and have been a member of a union till I retired in 2010. I march in the Red Contingent to distinguish the socialist movement from the ALP.

      I saw Anne in the usual place. The women in the union sang out “Not the Church, not the State, women will decide their fate” as we passed.

      Where were you?

      The Red Contingent melded into their respective unions or were invited to join by a particular union.

      For example, the Australia Cuba Friendship Society were invited to join with the NTEU contingent. And the (non-affiliated union) the Retail Workers (RAFWU) marched with the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).

      I was not “cancelled”, I resigned on principle. I broadcast 8 speeches from international women’s day and the station management took exception to my broadcast, reported the broadcast to the regulator. Management say it relates to the issue of “transgender”.

      As you can imagine, this is not the first time 4ZZZ management (or board of management) has objected to my broadcasts. For example they did so in 1977 when Yyyy Yyyy and I interviewed Neville Bonner to ask him why he went along with Fraser’s Uranium ‘decision’ when it was against his own people’s best interests. I did not make another appearance on 4ZZZ again till 2011, a ‘34 year suspension’.

      A manager also objected when I broadcast an interview I did with Pauline Hanson. On another occasion they objected when I challenged DOCs for stealing aboriginal kids … a director general in DOCs rang up the station and threatened the manager making false claims about the legality of what I broadcast. The manager was so out-of-her-depth she demanded I go before the board to explain why I should continue. An aboriginal woman explained my broadcast and a board member relented.

      Who were the “Feminists for Life” and which year did they march? Does Anne have any photos?

      Tell her I am interested because I intend to publish “A History of May Days in Meanjin”.
      I am gathering all the material together atm.

      BTW the Assange group were allowed to have a stall inside the Exhibition grounds … I suspect Albanese supports Julian’s release. I think the Brits will oppose extradition and then Assange will be yet another person who has overstayed his UK visa. If I were him I would not be returning to Australia … the Australian government is too close to the Americans for safety.

      So as much as Xxxx might try to cast me into the role of martyr as many have done with Julian, however I remain free to do and say what I wish on the airwaves.

      You should listen sometime … my radio station is called 4PR – Voice of the People and you can hear it on all the major podcast platforms.

      Did you mean this interview between Dore and Greenwald ?

      I have seen it but I don’t like Jim Dore, I think he is too sanctimonious and self-righteous.

      BTW … Socialist Alliance did march on May Day, however you may have your socialist grps mixed up … Socialist Alliance chose not to march. They weren’t banned.

      In solidarity


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