Saturday 20th of April 2024

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
1) Brought home some work or plan to go to the office on Sunday? Don't do it! Spend some time with family and friends
2) Have to make a call to a call-centre today for your banking, insurance or telephony services? Be extra nice to the person who answers the phone on the end! Their working today means you have the convenience of getting service on a Sunday
3) Calling Telstra BigPond for Internet Technical Support. Be extra nice to these hard working people! They work for an outsourced call centre called TeleTech and thanks to Australian Workplace Agreements they do not receive one extra cent (in the way of penalty rates or shift allowances) for working on a Sunday. This will be the norm if Howard's IR Laws pass
4) Having a beer at a pub? Why don't you offer to buy the person behind the bar a drink? They are serving you, not having a relaxing day with their mates.
5) Catching the Train or Bus or Ferry? Smile at the driver and or station staff! They are remunerated well for their rotating shifts. Will they be in the future?
6) Using an ATM to get money out? Spare a thought for Westpac workers and workers of other banks whose weekends may be a thing of the past. Banks want to extend trading hours of certain branches over the whole weekend. At the same time the banks are fighting to reduce the right of employees to refuse to work unsocial hours and also want weekend work considered as "ordinary hours" (ie no access to penalty rates or shift allowances)
7) Taking your kids to play sport? Take 30 seconds to consider how would you do this if you were a call centre worker or work in the hospitality industry?
8) Visiting someone in Hospital or heaven forbid, you need to go there yourself? Hospitals have always been 24/7 operations. So make sure you thank the doctors nurses and other staff who attend to you.
9) If you are working today, take some time to familiarise yourself with the Award or Agreement you work under. Are you getting all your entitlements for working on a Sunday? Is it really your choice to work? Can you get some Sundays off? What can you and your fellow workers do to make things better at your workplace?
10) Start educating yourself about the proposed IR changes. I will add some new links soon but you might like to see here, here and here for different perspectives. And Stop Press see for details of the ACTU campaign

Unions and Society

Hey James, re: unions. Yes they did provide the conditions that were desperately needed and yes they fought long and hard to achieve that for all of us today.

But somewhere along the way the Unions I have had contact with or been a member of lost their focus. The last one I belonged to was the Public Sector union. I resigned from that union years ago when the local branch in South Australia put around a "referendum" for members to vote on whether the union should have a policy on abortion.

I couldn't see any relevance to what the union was supposedly there for and resigned. I also couldn't see why they held a "referendum" on it. There was no issue for members and that was simply a personal issue that one of the executive wanted to push as they were planning a move into politics.

I think the same sort of irrelevance is true of many unions and union officials and this is a big part of why membership has dropped. People simply don't see what the unions are actually achieving any more. They see people building careers for themselves and little else.

I certainly see that unions should be out there right now trying to reactivate membership as conditions have been under attack for years now. The casualisation is just the most recent focus, and possibly the most damaging issue.

I have very strong views about the Free Trade bullshit but I don't understand economics I suppose so my views are ignorant. My view of what Howard and Bush are doing is attacking their country's own workers. Howard has a three pronged attack on our workers and conditions. He's trying to get rid of any industrial monitors, casualise the work force and reduce the average workers pay, both take home and hourly rates. There's also the bullshit about skills shortages which allow overseas workers to take Australian jobs, usually as a start of reducing the pay levels in the relevant occupation.

He is doing all that in the name of making Australia "competetive" on world markets. In my simple thinking if we are going to compete with China, Taiwan and India then our workers will have to earn what they earn. I think that's what Free Trade is all about. Most of our jobs will disappear as we won't be able to compete at those salary levels.

To me Howard is covering that up currently by subsidising the lower wage earning families with allowances, tax benefits, one off lump sums and the like so we get used to lower pay. That can't last long as the number of taxpayers will drop quickly as Free Trade takes effect on the various industries.

As to May Day itself, to Australians it is just another long weekend and most have no idea what it is supposed to represent, particularly as you point out that it is celebrated in months other than May.

Your list of ten things to do on May Day is how I would like our society to be all year round and I think it used to be something like that before money was ordained as the supreme objective in life.

Queensland and France

A French friend insists that France also celebrates on May 1.

Grubs and bugs

Thanks for the reminder, James. The list of 10 good things to do is now on a couple of A4 pages, and on its way to the workplace tea-table, if you don't mind.

Andrew Marr, the esteemed BBC political reporter, referred to himself as an anarcho-syndicalist. What the hey? But when I looked up the defining features of this mob, I was looking at myself. A very nasty surprise. Not so much the 'anarcho' - that's a given - but the concept of the workplace unit as having the greatest potential as wellspring of reform is very appealing. More on that another time.

My letterbox had a leaflet from Graeme Campbell's Australia First Party, about a local issue. Graeme Campbell appeared in Background Briefing: 21 July 1996 - Stalking Ted, about the efforts of the late Ted Drane, of Sporting Shooters Association, to make political hay with Pauline Hanson.

Andrew Dodd: This is the end of the alliance with Graeme Campbell then?

Ted Drane: Well it's looking that way, yes, it's looking that way. I won't have anything to do with the League of Rights at all. And I understand that this meeting that was planned for Canberra on Saturday has some members of the League of Rights at it, and I won't be involved in any way at all with the League of Rights.

The AFP's Citizen Initiated Referendum (CIR) seems close in concept to Citizen's Electoral Council of Australia.

So, what is the risk of fledgling, grassroots democratic bodies being infiltrated by agents of CEC, CIR, or CIA, for that matter?

I did the weekly patrol of the sapling Yellow Box in the backyard today. Always on the lookout for grubs that chew off the tiny new leaf tips. There is some evidence of fresh predation, but the caterpillars disguise themselves and hide during the day. I didn't find any, and hope the birds are doing their duty. When the grubs get big enough, they can't hide from my bleary eyes.

It isn't possible to prevent extremists from trawling over sites like YD, but it ought to be possible to keep them from distracting from the main purpose.

Registration Required

Hey James, registration is required to access your last link. Is there any other way to access details on the ACTU campaign? Could you publish a version as a blog?

May Day in Europe

Hamish yes you are right and I should have been more specific in saying that QLD is the only state in Australia where the link to May Day and the 40 hour week remains. See the QLD Locomotive Drivers Union site for more details. The dates of the labour days in the other states reflect when tribunal decisions were handed down or legislation passed to grant the 40 hour working week. Many countries including most of Europe celebrate their labour days on or around May 1. 

The US government chose the first Monday in September as their Labor Day partially because they did not want the Haymarket Riots and resulting loss of lives commemorated. See the Wikipedia for more information. This article also mentions that Stonemasons and building workers in Melbourne were actually the first workers in the world to fight for and win an 8 hour day.

Many Japanese companies also give their workers a day off on May 1 as this day falls in between a string of national holidays (so called Golden Week) The official Japanese Labor Day (November 23) is actually based on an ancient harvest festival (Niiname-sai) where workers celebrated their efforts in completing the years harvest.

This will be live next week

Hamish sorry I am jumping the gun. This address was officially released to coincide with May Day today BUT it won't be live until early next week. I only had this confirmed now. Apologies for that. I will post when it is live but if people try a few days later it should work.

Unions and Society

I was a member of the CPSU for more than 20 years and have been a staunch supporter of unions most of my working life.

I became disillusioned with unions during the Hawke/Keating years with the accords and the 'super' unions. In the end those accords favoured the employer and disadvantaged the employee. The dismemberment of the Commonwealth Public Service also began in those years with privatisation and outsourcing (I would like to see the 'commercial-in-confidence' files relating to some of THOSE deals and find out how many public service mandarins ended up working for the successful outsourcing tenderers).

Perhap when Howard's IR policies begin to bite we might see a resurge of interest in unions.

And, lastly, union officials need to represent their members not the interests of the ALP. Nor should they see their positions as stepping stones into politics.

Mountain Murmurs

Hamish, the rights at work website is live.

White ants and termites

An excellent summary of current inter-ethnic tensions, by James Jupp in A place under the sun for all Australians:
... Multiculturalism also will not work unless public figures with access to youth come out strongly against racism and exclusion. This includes sporting figures and entertainers. Traditional public figures - politicians, clergy, academics - have little credibility with the most dangerous age groups. Above all, those who support multiculturalism should stop being denounced as elites, latte drinkers or doctors' wives, among other epithets. This is cheap abuse. The inescapable fact is that Australians are drawn from all across the world; they can and must live together. That does not mean everyone must love everyone else. But it does mean that all avenues for advancement and all public spaces must be open to all. Including Sydney beaches.

Another voice on the issue - Australia First: reclaiming the agenda:
MANY Australians feared their "unique culture" was threatened by multiculturalism and immigration, the president of the ultra-nationalist Australia First Party said yesterday. Diane Teasdale, 57, Shepparton-based leader of the party that mobilised 120 people to attend Sunday's violent rally in Cronulla, said the ugly beach scenes were part of Australians wanting to "reclaim the agenda and say we have a culture". ...

Tacking into the Wind: Immigration and Multicultural Policy in the 1990s by James Jupp,  in Journal of Australian Studies Issue 53, 1997:
... Pasquarelli had also previously worked for senator John Stone, as had Hanson’s current electoral secretary, Barbara Hazleton. Campbell’s attempt to form the Australia first party as a movement around his opposition to immigration got off to a very shaky start. The connection with the league of rights has undoubtedly damaged both his cause and that of AAFI, as well as frightening off Pauline Hanson. Any possibility of uniting these groups with the gun lobby were aborted by the strong opposition of Ted Drane to the league. After the breach with Campbell, Hanson was left with the support of Bruce Whiteside, a Gold Coast retiree, who had attempted to form the heart of a nation movement in 1988 in opposition to Japanese property ownership. This had collapsed rather quickly when it emerged that Whiteside was a New Zealander who had not become an Australian citizen. However, the responsibility for organising the Pauline Hanson support groups still rests with him. Hanson was also reported as negotiating with expelled liberal activist senator Crichton- Browne and independent Paul Filing from western Australia. These links are detailed not to suggest a conspiracy but rather to indicate that networks exist, as they also do among the ecological and conservationist opponents of immigration. ...

Ted Drane's brief political career is recorded in Stalking Ted:
Since Port Arthur, the gun lobby appears to have been soundly beaten. About the only ammunition they have left is a planned campaign over what they see as inadequate compensation for seized weapons. But that's not the only battle being fought by the gun lobby. In recent months two political parties have emerged, relying to a large extent on gun owners for support. A month ago those parties united to create the Australian First Reform Party. The Party was launched on a Monday, but by the following Friday had come crashing to its knees. This is the inside story of that tumultuous week, a week in which Ted Drane, the long-time leader of the peak gun group, the Sporting Shooters' Association totally disowned his political partner, Graeme Campbell. For Ted Drane it's the story of a personal mission: to form a new political movement with a brand new approach to politics and how the emergence of a secretive and ultra right wing group, the League of Rights, ensured that Drane's quest became mission impossible. ...
Andrew Dodd: This is the end of the alliance with Graeme Campbell then?
Ted Drane: Well it's looking that way, yes, it's looking that way. I won't have anything to do with the League of Rights at all. And I understand that this meeting that was planned for Canberra on Saturday has some members of the League of Rights at it, and I won't be involved in any way at all with the League of Rights. ...

Ted Drane died of illness in 2002 (link to eulogy).

More on Graeme Campbell, in Australia-Israel Review:
... Watch this space for the new Great White Hope.

Watch the flag flutter over at Australian League of Rights, and catch up on the names.

Watch out for Citizens' Campaigns for Local Democracy, under patronage of Australia First.

Take a look over Citizens Electoral Council. But, do not ask whether John Howard's father was a member of the New Guard.

Australian mono-culturalism = Bradley John Murdoch.