A few thoughts on May Day in Melbourne (2013)

[A post prompted by some disco elsewhere on the Internets…]

May Day in Melbourne this year (2012) was a small affair — tiny even. Perhaps 30 or 40 people (overwhelmingly male) attended the 8 Hour Monument at midday, and sometime around 1pm decided to go on a march. At the same time as this group was meeting at the Monument, another, presumably smaller group gathered at Her Majesty’s Theatre, site of the historical Melbourne Anarchist Club (the first such group to form in this part of the world — on this date, in 1886).

From memory, the largest May Day rally I’ve witnessed took place in 2001, almost eight months after the very large anti-WEF protests in September 2000 (S11), and immediately following an anarchist (and autonomist) conference. The event attracted participation not only from radicals but also a handful of unions — the first time any mass labour organisation had taken part in a May Day rally for many years. Their participation, it seems, was prompted partly by the success of the protests in September (and determination to capitalise on public sentiment in opposition to ‘globalisation’) and a certain internal logic.

Throughout this period, and for many decades prior, the trades union movement has largely confined its celebrations — and certainly its public rallies — to the Sunday immediately following May 1; so too in 2013.

In summary: the fact that the May Day rally was tiny may be explained primarily by way of its obscurity: a product of its long historical neglect, absence of any institutional support, and general passivity. Further, unlike in many other parts of the world, where May Day rallies are often very sizeable, even huge, May Day is not a public holiday in Victoria, and participation by workers obviously rendered very difficult by that fact.

(For a superb account of the tumultuous events in Istanbul, Turkey, see Dave K’s account on his wonderful blog Citizen K.)

Is May Day worth celebrating? I think so. It links past struggles to the present, Melbourne to the world and provides an opportunity for community, reflection and celebration. But if more are to participate in future years, more organisation is going to be required, and the nature of the event itself transformed into something more exciting, inclusive and inspiring. Thankfully, anarchists have a long history of successfully creating such moments, and given the anarchist origins of May Day, doing so would be paying our long-dead comrades a fitting tribute.

[…written in acknowledgement of the efforts of those who contributed to its success.]

If you think that by hanging us you can stamp out the labor movement – the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil and live in want and misery, the wage slaves, expect salvation — if this is your opinion, then hang us!

Here you will tread upon a spark, but here, and there, and behind you, and in front of you, and everywhere, flames will blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out. The ground is on fire upon which you stand. You can’t understand it. You don’t believe in magical arts, as your grandfathers did, who burned witches at the stake, but you do believe in conspiracies; you believe that all these occurrences of late are the work of conspirators!

You resemble the child that is looking for his picture behind the mirror. What you see, and what you try to grasp is nothing but the deceptive reflex of the stings of your bad conscience.

You want to ‘stamp out the conspirators’ – the ‘agitators’? Ah, stamp out every factory lord who has grown wealthy upon the unpaid labor of his employees. Stamp out every landlord who has amassed fortunes from the rent of overburdened workingmen and farmers. Stamp out every machine that is revolutionizing industry and agriculture, that intensifies the production, ruins the producer, that increases the national wealth, while the creator of all these things stands amidst them tantalized with hunger! Stamp out the railroads, the telegraph, the telephone, steam and yourselves — for everything breathes the revolutionary spirit.

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2021 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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