The modern May Day has its origins in Australia where workers in 1856 organised a day of complete stoppage together with meetings and entertainment as a demonstration in favour of the eight-hour day.
In 1884 the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions demanded an eight-hour workday in the United States, to come in effect as of May 1, 1886. This resulted in the general strike and the Haymarket Riot of 1886, but eventually also in the official sanction of the eight-hour workday it is also celebrated as the Day of the International Solidarity of Workers.
The bosses, and for that matter the ALP and Union leadership, think the class war is over. They think the falling off of strike action and decline in union membership means that union militancy and struggle is now a thing of the past and never to return.
It is this thinking that is in the past. The ebb and flow of Australian history is propelled by the ebb and flow of the class struggle. There is a deep mood and history of rebellious militancy in the Australian psyche. Since the first years of colonisation there has been a deep sense of distrust of authority. There are few certainties in life, one is that the class struggle will ebb and flow, decline and then surge forward sometimes slowly other times at a rapid pace.
Marxists in the Socialist Party will not be surprised when the Australian masses move into battle first on a small scale then with rapid speed and ferocity.
Howard won the election for the Liberals and the bosses with a scare campaign saying that under Labor interest rates would rise. But the ALP had no alternative program to the Liberals. The Liberals even promised more on spending on health and education. Since the election interest rates have risen and are set to rise again in the next few months.
As the Socialist Party predicted the Liberals have already reneged on spending promises announcing that Medicare costs will increase for all families. With attacks on workers rights set to be implemented this year this amounts to a serious assault on working people in Australia.
The ALP rather than mobilising resistance to these attacks are equally responsible for them. The last Labor Governments of Hawke and Keating between 1983-96 introduced user pays, privatisation, HECS, liberalisation of the finance sector as well as smashing two militant unions (BLF and Pilots) and building the first detention centers for refugees.
That is why workers need a new mass party. Unfortunately all but a handful of union leaderships can’t let go of support for the ALP. The ACTU and these pro-ALP union bureaucrats no longer have a vision or a belief in any alternative to capitalism. They put all their hopes in the re-election of the ALP at the next federal election. They have no confidence in (in fact they fear) the mobilisation of the working class. That is why the ACTU is refusing to follow the excellent example of Victorian trade unions in calling for a one day stoppage on June 30th.
With no national leadership prepared to resist the coming attacks on workers rights and cuts in the health system, a mood of seething anger will grow as interest rates rises take more families into debt. A deep sense of betrayal will develop over the next year or two.
Already the average family income is finely balanced with mortgages around a third of total income. According to The Department of Parliamentary Library more than one in ten homes are suffering from what they call Mortgage Stress. In other words, unable to pay their mortgages. The Reserve Bank of Australia reported in March 2003 that as a percentage of household debt, housing accounts for 83.5% whereas in the past decade it only accounted for 15%. This is why Howard struck such a cord with the scare tactic of high mortgages under Labor.
The struggle for the eight hour day fought for by so many workers needs to be fought for again. Increased time spent at work and casualisation means there is enormous pressure building up in Australian society.
This is exactly the time that the national trade union leadership should be calling for a national strike on the 30th of June. This is exactly the time that Australian unions should break with the ALP and stand their own candidates as part of a new workers party.
The Socialist Party will work with activists in all states in the call for a nationwide strike on the 30th of June. The SP will continue to argue that capitalism is responsible for the endless struggle workers have to make just to keep their head above water.
Socialism is about confidence in working people’s ability to build a new society based on real democracy and planning the earth?s resources for the benefit of all not just a few. The Socialist Party appeals to workers and youth to join with us to give direction and spine to the coming struggles.
By John Gowland