Countdown to May Day

In Australia workers in some industries had claimed the eight hour day in the1850s. The new international Eight Hour day was welcomed by Australian workers.

On May 1st 1890, the Brisbane Workers editorial said "May Day, this is ourMay Day, the by-gone jubilation of our forefathers for the reconquering of bythe bright sunshine of the bitter northern winter, the new-born celebration ofthe passing of the workers' winter of discontent. In Germany, in Austria, inBelgium, in France, all through Europe, in the United Kingdom and in the greatEnglish speaking republic across the Pacific, millions of workers are gatheringat this hour to voice the demands of Labor for fair conditions of laboring.Never in all history was there such a meeting..."

A large May Day meeting was held in Melbourne in 1890, chaired by Dr Maloney,ahighly respected person who later became a federal Labor MP. The group ofradicals who called this metting had an inaugural meeting on May Day 1886, tocoincide with the US movement protests. Anarchist activists were prominentthen, including J Andrews, Chummy Fleming, David Andrade and Monty Miller.

The spirit of the activists and early workers organisers is summed up inBernard O'Dowd's poem, May Day:

Come Jack, our place is with the ruck
On the open road today,
Not with the tepid "footpath sneak"
Or with the wise who stop away.

A straggling, tame procession, perhaps,
A butt for burgess scorn;
Its flags are ragged sentiments,
And its music's still unborn.

Though none respectable are here,
And trim officials ban,
Our duty, Jack, is not with them,
But here with hope and Man.

The first May Day march was held inBarcaldine in 1891 by striking shearers. The Sydney Morning Herald reportedthat 1340 took part. Henry Lawson's well known poem Freedom on the Wallaby


...So we must fly a rebel flag
As others did before us,
And we must sing a rebel song
And join in rebel chorus.
We'll make the tyrants feel the sting
O'those that they would throttle;
They needn't say the fault is ours
If blood should stain the wattle

was composed in Brisbane at the timethe striking shearers were facing the troopers guns at Barcaldine.
 
Each year, UnionsACT celebrates MayDay with a dinner and the presentation ofthe Trades and Labour Council's May Day Award. The award is presented to thenominee who has made the most signifant contribution to improving and advancingthe conditions of ACT workers during the year.