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May Day March - Lest We Forget

May Day marches in Victoria started in 1893 and continue to this day. May Day celebrations are a joint exercise of the Victorian Trades Hall Council and Melbourne May Day Committee.

In recent years the focus of May Day has been on the right to strike, picket and assemble in protest. In 2014, with Abbott Government cuts looming, the list of issues has grown to include:

  • Public sector job cuts
  • Privatisation
  • Defence of Medicare
  • Equal pay
  • Casualisation 
  • Precarious work arrangements
  • Off-shoring of jobs
  • Occupational health and safety
  • Workers’ compensation
  • An independent foreign policy
  • Civil rights
  • Humane treatment of asylum seekers.

ETU members are invited to join the May Day march on Sunday 4 May, assembling at Trades Hall from 1pm.

There will also be a wreath-laying ceremony at the 8 Hour Monument diagonally opposite Trades Hall at 5pm on Thursday 1 May.

May Day’s history written in blood

Victorian workers, led by the stonemasons, first won the 8-hour day in 1856. This was a world-first achievement, which we celebrate every year on Labor Day.

Workers in the rest of the world had to wait several decades longer to achieve this same victory. As early as the 1860s, working people in Europe and the USA agitated to shorten the workday without a cut in pay. It wasn’t until the late 1880s, however, that organised labour was strong enough to declare the 8-hour workday.

In 1884, the US Organized Trades and Labor Unions proclaimed ‘eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after 1 May 1886.’ This proclamation was backed up a year later with the commencement of strikes and demonstrations.

1886: Police and judicial murders in Chicago

On 1 May 1886 more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the USA walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history. 

On 3 May that year, violence broke out on a picket line of steelworkers at McCormack Reaper Works in Chicago. At least two strikers were killed and an unknown number were wounded when police fired into the crowd. 

In response, a public meeting was called the following day in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. As police were dispersing the crowd, a bomb exploded, prompting chaos and more gunfire from the police ranks. 

At least seven or eight civilians died that day and more than 40 were wounded.

Eight anarchist organisers were arrested and convicted of murder by a jury made up of business leaders, although only three of them were even present at Haymarket on the day of violence. As the entire world watched on, four of the organisers were publically hanged and a fifth took his own life the night before with an explosive device in his mouth.

From these violent origins May Day persisted as an annual celebration, amid a flourishing of trade unionism.