Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

May Day: For struggle, solidarity and socialism

Reading Time: 3 minutes

May 1, or May Day, is an important day in the history of the labour movement. For more than 120 years it has been a focal point for internationalism and the fight for workers rights.

It was the first Congress of the Second International in 1889 that decided to organise worldwide demonstrations on May Day to demand an eight hour working day.

By Corey Snoek, Socialist Party

The decision was inspired by May Day demonstrations that had already started in the US – especially after the general strike of 1886 and the police brutality of the Haymarket massacre in Chicago.

In 1890 the first international May Day demonstrations took place and ever since workers across the world have used the day to celebrate struggle, promote solidarity and fight for socialism.

While some building workers in Australia had already won the eight hour day as early as 1856, May Day was used to campaign for the gains to be extended nationally to every industry.

Thousands of people attended meetings and rallies in several major towns and cities in 1890 but by 1898 tens of thousands of people were attending events right across the country.

During the Depression, in the early 1930s, the workers movement was moving in a radical direction. In order to cut across this the police tried to ban May Day marches in some cities and attacked demonstrators in others. In 1941 and 1942 May Day celebrations were banned by the Menzies Government.

While most trade union leaders today have given up on the ideas that May Day is based upon, in the context of an economic crisis it is more important than ever to return to these traditions.

Employers and governments around the world are hell bent on making workers pay for a crisis that they had no part in creating. The solution is for workers across the world to unite in struggle and to fight for a different way of running society.

While May Day is recognised in some countries, both Liberal and Labor governments in Australia have attempted to destroy its traditions by refusing to acknowledge it or declare it as a public holiday.

The Socialist Party calls on the labour movement to campaign for May Day to be made an official public holiday. The first step should be to re-establish the tradition of marching and protesting for workers rights on May 1 every year.

If anything can be learned from the history of May Day it is that gains such as shorter working hours have not been won because of thoughtful bosses or politicians. They have only come about through the struggle and sacrifice of workers worldwide.

Joint May Day Statement 2010

The Socialist Party has also signed this joint May Day statement along with more than 50 other workers organisations from the Asia Pacific region. To read the list of endorsements click here.


All over the world workers are organising …

We are organising to demand a living wage. For health & safety at work. For compensation & rehabilitation. For the rights of migrant workers and refugees, for citizenship rights for migrant workers and their families. For the right to employment on equal terms. Workers are organising against deportations, against racism, against discrimination. Workers are organising against wars that are a disaster to millions of workers.

Workers are organising for secure jobs.
Against casualisation, contracting out & outsourcing. Workers are organising for the rights of women workers. For better working conditions, to stop work becoming harder, faster, more stressful and dangerous. For shorter working hours, for paid leave and paid holidays. For affordable housing and health care. For free education and welfare, against child labour and poverty and inequality. Workers are organising for the rights of Indigenous communities who have been stripped of their land and resources. Workers are organising to fight discrimination against minorities, women, lesbians & gays.

While we struggle against these problems, we see that our planet is being ruined through reckless, wasteful and unsustainable production for proft.

Workers can fix these problems. Workers can reorganise all industry to produce for peoples’ need instead of proft. Resources can be distributed to people and places who need them so that our children will have a future.

To do this workers have to dismantle imperialism and the capitalist system. We need to make decisions together in our own workplaces, unions & political organisations about the way production and sharing need to be restructured. We need this. We have the numbers.
We control production. Capitalists will be defeated.


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