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Issue #1498      20 April 2011

May Day 2011

Growing struggle answering increased attacks

May Day is not about nostalgia. While it is an occasion for celebration of the many gains made by the workers’ movement internationally over the years, its central message is that workers are still struggling against capitalism for their just demands and that they won’t stop until victory is theirs. This year we see this determination all around us – in Australia and internationally. The drive by employers and governments to force austerity and more suffering onto workers and communities is meeting stiff resistance. May Day 2011 is taking place amidst an awakening of awareness among workers that in order to preserve what they have gained and to press on to a brighter future, they must unite and fight.


May Day Adelaide 2005. (Photo: Avante Media Australia)

The world has held its breath as democratic movements in the Middle East risked all to challenge decades of dictatorship. The stirrings were accompanied by a revival of vigorously repressed trade unions. The Tunisian General Trade Union overcame violent attacks to take up a crucial role in events in that country. The Egyptian trade unions have become some of the most insistent voices for real change in that country. A new Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions has been formed. They are striving to catch up with decades of losses for Egyptian workers. A strike of dockers in Port Said is demanding three year contracts for impoverished workers at the Maersk terminal and a 100 percent wage rise.

In Latin America, teachers and students are in the forefront of struggle. In Honduras, police met protesting teachers with clubs and tear gas. The teachers’ union was demanding that the privatisation of education in the Central American country must stop. Youths supporting the movement were detained in “special installations” as pressure on the right-wing government of Porfirio Lobo mounts.

Ten reporters have been murdered. Striking teachers support the demands of the National Front on Popular Resistance for the removal of the coup makers’ government and the restoration of democracy. A notice placed on highways and public institutions says, “Pardon the inconvenience. We are fighting to build a new country!”

Students in Puerto Rico are striking against cuts to education and a stiff increase in fees by right-wing governor Luis Fortuño. There have been clashes with police and over 150 arrests of militant but peaceful protestors. Arrested students have been abused by police. The students’ protest is drawing support from the rest of the community. They are still reeling from the loss of thousands of public sector jobs and the cancellation of union contracts.

People in US, Europe fight back

In the US, 10,000 workers in Wisconsin occupied the state Capitol building in Madison recently in protest at union-busting legislation from Republican governor Scott Walker. The chants of the teachers, students and public sector employees included “Union busting is disgusting”, “This is what democracy looks like” and “Recall Walker!” The spirit of this movement spread to other states suffering cuts and the scapegoating of the poor for the sharp economic downturn in the US.

On April 4, the anniversary of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, hundreds of thousands of American unionists and supporters participated in over 1,000 actions across the country in solidarity with embattled workers.

In Europe, massive protests continue in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Hungary and elsewhere against cruel austerity measures being imposed by neo-liberal governments. In London, the anti-cuts protest called by Britain’s Trade Union Congress last month brought half a million people onto the streets. Everywhere you look, people are being drawn into struggle in increasing numbers. Repression is failing to stifle their demands. The awareness that class interests are involved is growing and so is the insistence that workers and other exploited people will not pay for the economic crisis caused by their exploiters.

Australia not isolated

Australia is not isolated from this worldwide movement. The world economy has become more globalised in recent times and today, so has resistance. Australian governments and employers are pursuing the same tactics as their overseas counterparts to push the cost of the economic crisis onto workers and communities. Privatisation and public sector job cuts are the order of the day across the country. Employers are squeezing workers over enterprise bargaining agreements. Threats are flying that manufacturing jobs will move offshore.

The Australian Building and Construction Commission continues to hound unionists on construction sites. Its operations in the Pilbara in WA are being reinforced to help mining companies retain maximum profits. Legitimate wage claims are being rejected and “independent” contractors are being used to break the workers’ resolve.

Wharfies are pitted in battle with Patrick Stevedores over their new enterprise agreement. The company is playing hardball over basic rights and matters of safety. Public sector workers in SA are about to take to the streets again over the Rann Government’s plan to cut services to the community, increase rents and charges, and axe over 3,700 public sector jobs. Queensland unions are locked in battle with the Bligh government over the privatisation of a range of public assets including railways, ports, motorways and forests.

In March a protest in Perth called for mining boom profits to be invested in local jobs. Around 8,000 people attended the protest called by the CFMEU, the AMWU and the MUA. Australia has been haemorrhaging manufacturing jobs for decades as transnationals go chasing lower wages abroad. In Australia, employers have sought to cut their wages bill and undermine unions with sham arrangements involving guest workers holding type 457 visas. Unions have led a number of magnificent struggles demanding justice for these workers and protection of local pay rates and conditions.

Undoubtedly, May Day 2011 is taking place against a backdrop of increased attack on workers’ rights but also of stiffening resistance. The words of socialist activist and martyr, Rosa Luxemburg, are not paling in their significance – they are increasing in their relevance:

“The first of May demanded the introduction of the eight-hour day. But even after this goal was reached, May Day was not given up. As long as the struggle of the workers against the bourgeoisie and the ruling class continues, as long as all demands are not met, May Day will be the yearly expression of these demands. And, when better days dawn, when the working class of the world has won its deliverance then, too, humanity will probably celebrate May Day in honour of the bitter struggles and the many sufferings of the past.”  

Next article – Editorial – False economies drive cuts to PBS

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