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From little things, big things grow

By John Passant - posted Thursday, 1 May 2008

Class is dead, right?

After all, you only have to look at Anzac Day and compare it to May Day and it's clear that Australian nationalism dominates over any old fashioned analysis of bosses and workers.

Millions of Australians celebrate Anzac Day. Surely it’s just a few stodgy old commies and their union mates hankering back to the glory days of the Soviet Union who might turn up to march on May Day if there is a march!


So there’s no comparison. One can safely assume that class is definitely dead.

But I’m not so sure. Let me tell you why.

May Day is a day lefties like me celebrate international working class solidarity. It came out of bloody campaigns in the United States for the eight-hour day in the 1880s. The Second International adopted it for workers across the world and it was recognised by many workers in many countries by the early 1890s. For example 100,000 went on strike for it in Vienna in 1890.

In Australia the situation was more ambivalent because we had, in a number of States, already won the eight-hour day (the earliest in history to do so, I understand). Labour Day celebrated that victory of workers over bosses.

The May Day/Labour Day differences also reflected divisions to some extent between moderate and radical elements in the Australian Labour movement.

For example, at one stage the aims of May Day were better wages, working and living conditions, an end to imperialist wars and for socialism.


So what you might ask? That’s all old history stuff. The world has moved on since then. And anyway, today is what counts and today May Day is dead.

Yes and no. It is true that there won’t be many people celebrating May Day like they used to in Australia. But even now, in NSW, unions are using May Day to build a rally, outside the ALP's state conference, to oppose privatisation of the electricity industry.

It’s interesting. Who in NSW has the real power to block the sale? Well, NSW workers, especially power workers, who could shut the state down tomorrow if they pulled the plug. Morris Iemma could shout all he wanted to, but that wouldn’t get the power turned on again.

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About the Author

John Passant is a Canberra writer ( and member of Socialist Alternative.

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