May Day and Democracy
Happy May Day?
What does that have to do with building a better democracy? May 1 is about trade unions marching with their flags and banners. It is the day when communists and socialists get together and dream about their version of a better world. It's the day when Euro Anarchists come out to play. It was also the day of those bizarre grotesque soviet parades. How is commemorating this day relevant to Australia in 2005?
May day grew out of the Haymarket Riot in Chicago in 1886 and subsequent protests and marches. Six people were shot for protesting for an 8 hour working day and May Day became their day of commemoration as well as becoming a rallying day for 40 hour week campaigns all around the world (Interestingly enough only Queensland's Labour Day coincides with May)
I am sure most Australians would agree that a 40 hour week and two day weekend is just as much a part of our Australian lifestyle as our Democracy. Yet like our democratic institutions, it is being attacked. And like the attack on Democracy it is being done in tiny subtle little increments that are slowly adding up to irreversible damage. Most people are working harder and longer than ever before and putting in hours of unpaid overtime. More businesses and services are operating seven days a week. While that is a great convenience for us as consumers, for those working in these services a weekend may just be a fond memory of childhood. The casualisation of the workforce in general has also contributed to more people working irregular non standard hours
Of course many people like weekend work such as students and part timers working in the service industries. These jobs may not be particularly well paid but our system of Awards, penalty rates and shift allowances means that workers receive a reasonable compensation for working unsocial hours. Yet even this will change under the proposed Industrial Relations "reforms" coming up once the Government controls the Senate. Employers will be able to impose individual contracts more easily -which will override Award coverage for those workers, The Award system itself will be weakened, Unions will have less rights to organise and negotiate Awards and Agreements, the ability of industrial commissions to step in on disputes will be further weakened meaning employers will simply get their way.
I also believe the same forces that are eroding our democracy are also the ones winding back our working conditions: the lie that globalisation means giving up our political sovereignty as well as our economic independence; Big Business having too much influence over both major political parties and the interests of Big Business being promoted as the interests of all; a compliant media -they are employers afterall!, a dysfunctional Parliament with the last "check and balance" -an independent Senate about to go; a weakening of independent institutions like the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. It is about to lose even more of its teeth and the proposal to have minimum wages set by a panel of economists would be tantamount to abolishing the Trial By Jury system in Criminal Law and replacing it with a panel of "criminologists" who meet in secret to decide the guilt of the accused.
So what should we do this May Day? I am not suggesting that you rush off to your local rally and march or stand up right now and sing all verses of the Internationale. However I believe we should stop and reflect for a while on just how good the weekend is and where our current conditions come from. Is it some kind of natural law that regulates our hours and gives us time to enjoy the fruits of our labour? Did Government and Businesses out of the kindness of their hearts decide to grant us a 40 hour working week, annual and long service leave, paid sick leave, and safety net annual pay increases? If our parents and their parents had to organise and fight to get these conditions, what are we prepared to do to make sure they are not taken away?
Have a great May Day whatever you do! And here are a few more suggestions for things to do:
Ten things to do on May day