Interview: Staying Alive
Bad Boss: The Ultimate Piss Off
Industrial: Last Drinks
National Focus: Around the States
Politics: Radical Surgery
Education: The Price of Missing Out
Legal: If At First You Don't Succeed
History: Massive Attack
Culture: What's Right
Review: If He Should Fall
Poetry: If I Were a Rich Man
Satire: IMF Ensures Iraq Institutes Market Based Looting
The Locker Room
Bob Gould Sprays Gerard Henderson
War and Peace
A Strange Light
A Little History
Does It Have To Be?
What May Day Means to Me
"Comradeship" was the name Mike Dwyer gave his small sailing sloop. Mike Dwyer was a school teacher. Mike Dwyer was also a tangible, breathing definition of integrity, intelligence and dedication. Mike Dwyer died three years ago from cancer, middle aged. Mike Dwyer was President of the South Coast Labour Council for ten years. Mike Dwyer taught me at high school. Mike Dwyer was a trade unionist. Mike Dwyer was my comrade.
My father is Ted McAlear. He is a retired Secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation Port Kembla Branch. My father has that same integrity, intelligence and dedication. Dad remains a proud trade unionist. Dad is my comrade.
My parents, Ted and Patricia, chose to marry on May Day, 1953. On the first day of their honeymoon in Sydney they marched together down George Street with tens of thousands of other workers, amid grand floats variously witty, defiant and spectacular. Among elaborate banners, pipe bands, miners bands, marching bands - all a powerful and deeply moving manifestation of working class unity, solidarity - and comradeship.
Exactly one year later, on May Day 1954, my brother Ted was born. Ted is a trade unionist. I am a trade unionist. My partner Mark is an honorary union secretary. So, perhaps not surprisingly, my biggest weekend of the year, of any year, is the May Day weekend. It begins with the traditional Friday night 'May Day Toast', organised by the South Coast May Day Committee, followed by the Wollongong march on Saturday and the Sydney May Day March on Sunday. The 'May Day Toast' deserves explanation for it is a singularly and deeply respected part of the celebrations. The Toast is like a big noisy dinner party, an amalgam of stirring and upstanding workers anthems from the Trade Union Choir such as 'Solidarity Forever' and the 'Internationale'. A few passionate speeches and a 'Toast to May Day' are delivered over a buzzing atmosphere alive with the cheerful and slightly lubricated camaraderie of trade unionists, Labor pollies who haven't forgotten their party's history, and assorted philosophical fellow travellers. A sort of annual coming home of the Left. Attend one Toast and you'll understand the truism that 'the working class have a culture and the upper class have only envy'.
To be honest, the grand scale of the earlier marches has diminished since May Day ceased to be a public holiday - but not the relevance. Incalculable numbers of workers have been killed by police and the military in countless countries fighting for the simple right to march on May Day. The bravery of these workers, and exercising the right to march, should not be forsaken at any time. Conservative governments have always attacked workers wages and conditions because they are inconvenient costs that detract from profits. Nothing was defended successfully or gains made without hard industrial struggle. But with the ascendancy of the neo-conservatives in Bush and his biggest fan, John Howard, the very essences and rights of civil society Australians have long taken for granted - universal medical care, public education and the social welfare of the aged and disadvantaged, will need strong defending. And it will be workers and their unions who will be called upon to lead that defence for all Australians. And, of course, we will.
The 2000 Sydney May Day March was a significant day I shall always remember. I had the honour of joining my partner in the Firefighters Union (FBEU) contingent that was chosen to lead that march down George Street. Leading the workers on their grand procession is indeed a great honour. As we moved off I was overwhelmed with pride and found it difficult to hold back the tears.
My very first May Day was experienced from inside mum's womb. One of my most prized possessions is a photo of me at three years old riding high on a float, surrounded by flowers, at the feet of a 'May Day Queen'. Exquisite floats, that unions spent hours designing and decorating, transported a procession of aspiring May Day Queens. Money raised by the entrants was donated to the May Day Committee. My early memories included marking the days off the calendar as it approached, excited sleepless nights, and preparing my best clothes at the end of the bed for the hasty morning dressing up.
At the conclusion of the Wollongong marches sample bags full of goodies were handed out to the children whilst the older kids were entertained at Lang Park with the Battle of the Bands. These activities and the march marked the culmination of weeks of celebrations. There were varied events such as the sporting program that included darts, snooker, wrestling, soccer (Johnny Warren was a star) and rugby league competitions (Merv Nixon in his prime). Many a famous sportsperson played in May Day tournaments. And no one would miss the May Day Ball at the Town Hall. All would dress up in their finest clothes, the men in suits, the women in long evening frocks with elaborate hairstyles.
Whether the local or the Sydney march, at the end there is always Freddy Moore, clapping the workers in as he has done as long as I can remember.
Some things never change. Once again the anticipation and excitement is building for this year's celebrations. May Day's importance has not diminished - it is still about displaying your collective pride and working class dignity, your international solidarity with all fellow workers. And again we will move off together behind our unions' banners with our heads held high, a lump in the throat, a tear in the corner of the eye. Again, I will remember Mike Dwyer - and his boat - 'Comradeship'.
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