Friday, April 26, 2013

Make May Day a platform for developing our own agenda!

Vanguard May 2013 p. 1
Nick G.

(Above: The Queensland Council of Unions will continue to celebrate May Day in May, rebuffing attempts by the reactionary Newman government to strip it of its historical significance.)
May Day belong to us.
Our people created it and we have not allowed it to be written off by the bourgeoisie.

Let the great German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, writing in 1894, remind us of the contribution of Australian workers to this international holiday of the proletariat:
“The happy idea of using a proletarian holiday celebration as a means to attain the eight-hour day was first born in Australia. The workers there decided in 1856 to organize a day of complete stoppage together with meetings and entertainment as a demonstration in favor of the eight-hour day. The day of this celebration was to be April 21. At first, the Australian workers intended this only for the year 1856. But this first celebration had such a strong effect on the proletarian masses of Australia, enlivening them and leading to new agitation, that it was decided to repeat the celebration every year.

“In fact, what could give the workers greater courage and faith in their own strength than a mass work stoppage which they had decided themselves? What could give more courage to the eternal slaves of the factories and the workshops than the mustering of their own troops? Thus, the idea of a proletarian celebration was quickly accepted and, from Australia, began to spread to other countries until finally it had conquered the whole proletarian world.

“The first to follow the example of the Australian workers were the Americans. In 1886 they decided that May 1 should be the day of universal work stoppage. On this day 200,000 of them left their work and demanded the eight-hour day. Later, police and legal harassment prevented the workers for many years from repeating this [size] demonstration. However in 1888 they renewed their decision and decided that the next celebration would be May 1, 1890.”

(Above: Luxemburg addresses a rally of German workers)
Luxemburg hit the nail on the head in identifying “courage and faith in their own strength” as an essential requirement for workers to deal with the problems of life under capitalism.

It is not a characteristic inherent in workers who must learn to have “courage and faith in their own strength” through repeated contests with the big end of town.
Indeed, some workers accept the lies of the dominant culture, according to which the big decisions about life are properly to be made by elected politicians in parliament.

The right to elected political representation is dear to all workers, but in a capitalist society the end result is a recurring cycle of hope that Labor will do the right thing by its electoral base; frustration and anger when it gets into office and betrays those hopes; an electoral win for the conservatives; and then a return to the hope that Labor gets re-elected and can be trusted…..“this time”.
There are workers even now who will be persuaded to use their vote to replace the pretend friend of the workers with their real enemy on September 14 because their disillusion and frustration is so keenly felt.

Break out of the electoral cycle
We need to encourage all workers and their allies to break out of the self-defeating cycle of electoral hope and despair.

We can do this by developing our own independent agenda in our communities and our unions.
This approach was embedded in the initial stages of the Your Rights At Work campaign.  The lessons of that stage of the campaign have been taken on board by many activists and leaders.

In her first address to the National Press Club as ACTU President (on Oct 6, 2010), Ged Kearney advocated an independent role for the peak union body which had for so long been a mere echo of the Labor Party.
“…it is clear to everyone,” she said, “that over the last 20 years in particular, the Labor Party has shifted ground….the battle of ideas, pursued ruthlessly by the neo-liberals globally, has changed the grounds of the debate and, some would say, the policies that the ALP pursues….Our impact has to be on all parties and MPs – Labor, Green, Coalition or independent.  The fact is, we have no choice.”

The essence of this statement is the need for an independent agenda, although it is still couched in terms of parliament being the arena for its pursuit.
Likewise Dave Oliver, the ACTU National Secretary, speaking at the National Press Club on February 6 this year, pledged to campaign on the issues set by affiliated unions around their members’ needs and interests “no matter who wins the election.  This is an agenda that is about working people, not an election cycle….”

We are heartened by these comments, but their realisation has to be the responsibility of all of us.
The central point, the crux, the pivot of our independent agenda has to be the clawing back from the great monopolies, from the miners, the financial circles, the big end of town, of the wealth that we have created and that they have seized.

We need it for our schools, our hospitals, to pay off our debts and to improve our lives.
The problem in this country is not that there isn’t enough money for these things, but that there is too much money and it is all in the wrong hands.

Demands to make the rich pay will need to have a sharp focus on democratic rights because we have never known a capitalist class that has been swayed by the strength of moral argument from below.
Ultimately, our struggle has to be for the replacement of the system that generates inequality and condemns the wealth makers to poverty.

We are not against the notion of a ruling class.  We simply believe that it is the right of the workers to occupy that position in society.  

That will be the occasion for a different celebration of May Day, for as Rosa Luxemburg said:
“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 honor of the bitter struggles and the many sufferings of the past.”

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