In Queensland May Day is big this year

Brisbane,May 1, 2006:
At least 35,000 marched in the Queensland Mayday(Labour Day) march today --a public holiday here. Union contingents were consistently larger than for many a year and the vast majority marched the long distance from the city to the Exhibition -- about 5 kms --with organised chants.

It's hard to say who were the most vocal -- the BLF whose contingent was a massive array of Eureka flags, blue and white with a rehearsed chant squad in the front row-- to the MISoes, lead by the cleaners who are knee deep in their present industrial campaign but were really hyped by the opportunity of marching together.

Of course, in the front rank of the march was Peter Beattie, Kym Beaseley, local Unions Qld secretary, Grace Grace, and Sharon Burow(et al) --and when we got to the other end these leaders of the labor movement were very keen to remind all present that "fighting"for your rights at work meant voting ALP.

That's' an oxymoron isn't it?

However, when Dick Williams, state secretary of the ETU, came up to receive the trophy for the best contingent he was keen to point out that fighting also meant striking on June 28 --as (surprise) no one else had mentioned this upcoming event. It was instead-- aside of William's notation -- all about waiting for the next poll. Although Burow said the union movement was also about defending anyone who was victimized under Work Choices. Beaseley's opening focused on the Tasmanian miners and the fact that the next round of IR legislation will attack on the job safety.

Another feature of today's march was the that most union contingents had special Work Choices t-shirts made each with their own slogan of protest. So on the way home in each bus or train carriage were all these people with slogans emblazoned across their chests.

The other three regional May Day marches in South East Queensland were also quite big.

The Gold Coast May Day march (it's only the third year that the Gold Coast has had a May Day march) was held on April 30. Despite starting at 8.30am on a Sunday morning, around 1000 people turned out. The biggest contingent was the BLF, a large contingent from the AMWU and contingents from the TWU, AWU, LHMU QTU, ETU and the plumbers union.

700 attended the Ipswich May Day march, up from 300 last year. And 1200 people marched in Toowoomba's May Day march and that it considerably larger than last year.

Unions predicted that around 20,000 would turn out for Brisbane's Mayday march -- but it was much larger than that estimate. I thought between 20,000 and 40,000 as it was hard to calculate a precise figure as the march covered perhaps two kilometres at least from head to tail.

The mood of the march

I did a few recordings today of the march and speeches and am presently listening to them. They're quite remarkable for capturing the pure triumphalism of the march. No wonder Beaseley et al looked sheepish on the platform. Beattie even looked forlorn (and he's the media tart with the cheesey grin).

The workers and their families who marched today in Brisbane were pumped. The official platform was on another planet(in a metaphorical sense) from the thousands that spread out over the Ekka arena from its base. When talking to a marcher here and there -- I got a great sense of how proud they were primarily of their union. And given the numbers there, were thousands who probably haven't marched at all or maybe never. The QTU -- Qld Teachers Union -- was so large, I wondered if any teacher in SE Qld was missing from the callup.

Comparing this gathering to the last Work Choices one I attended, when the ETU initiated Light the Fuse Tour hit town -- indicates a much sharper sense of purpose and focus, that is going to be very hard to sit on until John Howard decides to call another federal poll.

I'm sure the Laborist folk can do it, as that’s their profession, but they are going to be working really hard to pull it off because the mood seems to be rising. So while they can do it -- as that is certainly their intention-- it still remains a question whether they'll succeed.

I don’t think this business has been resolved yet one way or the other.

At the earlier one which was a spirited gathering of the ETU, BLF, CFMEU and AMWU the unionists were treated to a few rousing speeches and then sent home or to the pub. No march. No activity from the ranks. Just a report back which I suspect was all that was allowed by consensual agreement among the contributing unions.

Now, after today -- it's going to be a little harder to say simply"thanks for coming" primarily because the level of expectation has been raised. I've been to Labor Day marches here plenty of times but they have always been quiet affairs -- a few drinks prepped by a march-- but today there was real and rather new dynamic in play. This was indicated by the number of workers who were keen to get their copies of Green Left Weekly¹ or buy some of the snazzy strike badges we were distributing.

Usually it is us Lefties stuck at the back of the march who are the only vocal component, but today there were very few contingents -- and the ALP was one of the few -- who did not chant or sing or wasn't led by a succession of in house spruikers on loud hailers.

So rather than being a tired old and orthodox parade peppered with marching bands and with kids throwing sweets to crowds along the route, this event was indeed a bona fide protest march.

And you'd have to go back to the 1998 MUA dispute or the 1985 SEQEB dispute to get anything that came near what Brisbane experienced today. And unlike then the mood today was universal -- just not localized to a few contingents as has been the case in those occasions in the past.