Marches mark May Day

May 10, 2008

More than 10,000 unionists marched through Brisbane's streets on May 5, celebrating the union movement's role in the defeat of the Howard government last year. The annual Labour Day parade was led by the building unions, with the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) in the lead. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of the original building workers\' union in Queensland.

The CFMEU contingent was closely followed by a large representation from the Builders Labourers Federation. Both contingents carried placards calling for the abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission — the anti-union secret police set up under the federal Coalition government and continuing under the Rudd Labor government.

A group of Indigenous people and their supporters marched with the CFMEU contingent, focusing on the demand that the Bligh state ALP government pay all the wages stolen from Indigenous workers up to the 1970s, some of which was only partially reimbursed in the last few years.

Socialist Alliance members rallied in Centenary Park as the march went past, holding a huge banner that read: "Pay the stolen wages now! No NT/Qld intervention! Aboriginal control of Aboriginal affairs!"

A May Day Toast to international workers' struggles, co-sponsored by the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network, the Socialist Alliance and Green Left Weekly, was held later at the Activist Centre.

In Cairns, a march the same day drew 600 participants. The Electrical Trades Union and Queensland Teachers Union formed the largest contingents. A day earlier, around 1000 unionists marched on the Gold Coast.

Speakers at the Cairns rally included Stuey Traill, provincial president of the Queensland Council of Unions; the Maritime Union of Australia's first female organiser, Brooke O'Mara; ALP MP Jim Turnour; and Indigenous activist Terry O'Shane.

On May 4, a Melbourne march to mark May Day drew 800 people. The rally and march were mainly made up of left-wing parties, immigrant and international solidarity groups and small contingents of some trade unions.

Union Solidarity coordinator Dave Kerin spoke at the rally. It was also addressed by Nelson Davila, Venezuela's charge d'affaires, who drew links between fighting for indigenous rights and the broader struggle for workers' rights.

After the march, indigenous activist Robbie Thorpe conducted a smoking ceremony and made a passionate plea for people to support the Aboriginal struggle for a treaty, land rights and justice. He called for an end to the racist Northern Territory intervention.

Before the march, Davila addressed a Melbourne Socialist Alliance May Day event. He said that on May Day Venezuela's left-wing president, Hugo Chavez, had announced a 30% increase in the minimum wage (now the highest in Latin America) and in the salary of public sector workers.

Greetings to the toast were also delivered by representatives from Union Solidarity, the Anatolian Cultural Centre, the Salvadoran FMLN, the Sudanese Communist Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).

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