|Issue No 52||05 May 2000|
Bob Ellis's May Day Toast
Speaking from the heart, author and sometime Labor speechwriter Bob Ellis floored them at the annual May Day Toast.
Today on 2BL I broadcast my usual commemorative public verse on the dread events of the month of April. For all here who will have missed it, I thought I would read the first two minutes, no more of it, as a kind of kick start for what else in grief and nostalgia and ideological remembrance I might then say to you.
Now this is a far cry indeed from the Anzac's credo of self-mocking mateship and chiacking comradeship and two-up and beer shouts, and the common songs we sing when our way of life is threatened, and we must bloodily fight and truly sacrifice some of our component precious numbers; some of our family members, to preserve the whole and a decent minimum level of civility and health and income and a reasonable certainty of expectation that this time next year our address and our job and our children's school will be the same.
Chips Rafferty in his final scene in the semi classic, imperfect, Australian film The Rats of Tobruk, when asked what you Australians were fighting for said: "Well I guess it's the right of any bloke to stand up and say what he likes in the Domain."
This is not too far from what the union movement believed from time immemorial. That in fearlessly speaking up for our just entitlements, and taking industrial action when capitalist injustice is on the rampage and coming our way, to preserve what we can for those we call our workmates, for our fellow workers and their families, and their peace of mind.
And we are reminded, I think, of our common "Australianness" on these two days, five days apart, in a way that John Howard, lately touring the battle sights ... - there goes the neighbourhood - could not.
He does not, and possibly cannot, understand that the freedom our tribe fought for was not the freedom to be sacked at moment's notice, by the uncaring, pump action shotgun slaughters and massacrers of our way of life. Who have never worked as we have; or scrimped as we have; made choices of the enormity we make; or cared as we have. Who have never pushed a broom, or dug a ditch, or unloaded a ship, or tended a dying man in a nursing home.
It was not the freedom to wreck a town, a community, in a single, erotic moment of sheer fluctuation. It was a freedom to choose to stay, and be there next year, next decade, in the same neighbourhood, with the same neighbours, drinking and playing darts and pool in the same local pub. The freedom to know where your home is and to keep it looking good. The freedom to stay put and raise kids and to lead what we used to think was a normal life.
It is we who are the conservatives now, and they who are the dangerous revolutionaries smashing, burning, laying waste, and randomly lining up against a wall and liquidating innocent bystanders. It is they who are the danger to the common good. For a while - for a while they had it easy. They were, as Roger Rogerson put it, "green lighted" to commit a lot of unpunished crime. And they did it with a lot of zest. And they had fun. But their licence, their permission to live like raiding and roistering Visigoths has a time limit, I suspect.
And the time is drawing near when those who think a new Millennium must mean a new dispensation for humankind will say so loudly enough to be heard.
In even New Zealand, at long last, the rights of unionists - or some of the rights of unionists - are being restored. And there is no flight of capital; no mass emigration of tycoons or talent, or entrepreneurial chutzpah from that considerable civilisation - just because a Labor Prime Minister for once is acting like one - on behalf of the people and not the big end of town - not the despoilers of civility and the crunchers of numbers and human lives - and their japing Gauleiters like Tony Abbott, who believes that the dole must now be earned by six humiliations a week.
In Canada, in the EEC, in the coming free republic of Scotland, the wheel is turning and the mighty gatherings of angry, ordinary people outside the WTO Conference in Seattle will not be the last.
The payout of WD & HO Wills to people it knowingly gave cancer will not be the last. And great and searching populace films like "Face Off" and "The Full Monty" and "The Insider" and "Erin Brockovic", will not be the last. The word is spreading, that injustice is bad for nearly everyone, not for the rich. And the once revered surnames "Thatcher", "Reagan", "Kennet", "Kohl", and "Chirak", "Mulrooney", "Netanyahu", "Hindbridge", "Yeltsin", "Walsh", and "Latham" have lost their ancient lustre and speak to the here and now of a far, dark age when pillage and looting and cruelty and suffering and the pointless further reward of life's lottery winners and the pointless further punishment of life's lottery losers for the sin of being born.
That he is glad he has put behind him and he is beginning to look closely and every more closely at the governments he elects. At the egomaniacs and psychopaths and surveillance solicitors he sets loose. And to vote at last with mortal caution for maybe Independents, maybe Democrats, until he or she maybe gets it right.
As a result there are 17 million Australians now living fairly contentedly under Labor governments, and 2 more million if the polls are right, keen to do so too. And at federal level an extermination, or at the very least, Chikarovski proportions and possibly worse, is looming for this most shaming and stupid and schoolboy sadistic, bunch of brain-dead ministers ever to put the boot into the lower orders crying "nyah, nyah, nyah!".
In I think our history, and for the present Prime Minister who has most of the lesser qualities of a vegemite sandwich in a Globite suitcase and was best described by me, I think, as the itching haemorrhoid in the arse of the body politic.... the only just outcome is the straightforward loss of his seat.
This does not mean that the bad days are even nearly over. Or that the long, duchessed high living veterans of the Hawke and Keating years can be trusted now to do right and fear not.
In a world where the economic fundamentalists have gained such territory and influence and infrastructure and billions, that we dare not even say the word "socialism" any more; nor quote its marvellous definition by Dennis Healey: "An obstinate will to erode by inches the conditions which produce avoidable suffering". But it is perhaps to say that the worst of it will maybe soon, in months, or a year, or two be over.
And Beazley, a decent and very intelligent man, will turn his ear and his considerable powers of sympathy to those Australians - the ordinary struggling workers and families - who like the Anzacs and the Light Horse, the men of Kokoda, he has always truly admired. And begin, however cautiously and consultatively and long-windedly to minimise the cruelty.
If he does not, and this is possible too, the vengeance I think will be great. For do not mistake it, the voters of the West are very angry. And democracy in the West is pretty entrenched. And the result in England where the Tory Party got its worst vote since 1831, and in NSW where the Tory Coalition got its worst vote since 1930, and in Canada where the governing Tories in one election night lost 161 of their 163 seats, is not beyond all conjecture. What imagination.
And the word is out on economic rationalism. And nobody - not even the strutting moron Max Walsh, speaks favourably of it anymore.
And in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye ... a year from now perhaps, when Putin repudiates all overseas debts and all of Africa follows - or the salmon embargo of Tasmania spreads to other industries and other countries - or the socialist government of France displays a few more teeth - or the first Telstra executive is shot by the wife- We may, with luck, return to a reasonable balance of workers' rights and company profits. Of shareholders vulgar priorities and our human need for a roof and sustenance and health and communal continuity and good times and holidays and unriven families and workplace companionships that are not betrayed, and a system whose wheels are not turned just by the greed of the rich, or the roll of the dice or the smell of a falling dollar.
And civility and something like the Anzac spirit and the spirit we see in times of bushfire and flood, may return to an Australia we can admit is our country, not with the diffidence and guilt and shame we currently feel when foreigners ask us where we came from, but with a certain pride that our great, egalitarian experiment has not altogether come unstuck, and we can see some light on the hill arising in the years we yet have to spend on this earth, and fight for our rights and perhaps, perhaps prevail ..... I second the motion LONG LIVE MAY DAY!
Interview: War Stories from the Shakey Isles
After being flat-earthed, New Zealand unions are making a comeback under a new progressive government. Darien Fenton is at the forefront of the resurgence.
Unions: Laying It On the Line
A complex international legal web underpins a long-running South Coast picket.
International: Alive and Kicking
Those representing right wing political forces and strategists for multi-national corporations would be disappointed by the success of the recently concluded Congress of the WFTU in Delhi.
Economics: Fair Trade not Free Trade
The successful MAI and Seattle campaigns have sparked a new debate about the role of the World Trade Organization.
History: The Manchester Movement
Manchester, in Asa Briggs memorable phrase, was the shock city of the early nineteenth century, a small and obscure market town that in a matter of a few years had become a huge city.
Satire: Passing the Buck
Government report tells bosses how to lie and pass the buck: Reith blames Kemp
Review: A Book to Set the Left Right
The Australian Finacial Review's Stephen Long gives his verdict on 'Tales from the new Shop Floor'.
View entire latest issue
© 1999-2000 Labor Council of NSW
LaborNET is a resource for the labour movement provided by the Labor Council of NSWURL: http://workers.labor.net.au/52/a_guestreporter_ellis.html
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005