What May Day means to me

April 29, 2017
Ted McAlear, former Secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation (Illawarra),

Green Left Weekly interviewed Ted McAlear, former Secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation (Illawarra), on April 26.

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May 1 is a significant day for Ted McAlear. Ted, now 88 years of age, was a former member of the Mine Workers Union and later secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation in Port Kembla. (The WWF merged with the Seaman’s Union of Australia in 1993 to become the Maritime Union of Australia.)

On May 1, 1953, Ted was married and on the first day of his honeymoon he and his new wife, Patricia marched down George St in Sydney with thousands of other workers for May Day. Twelve months later their first son was born — on May 1. Ted’s son Len says that contrary to rumours “it wasn’t a communist plot”.

According to Len, participation in May Day is, for Ted, a working class value. “He feels almost obliged to attend. It is like a moral and social responsibility. May Day forms part of his very strong working class attitude.”

Ted explained it this way: “May Day is an opportunity for workers to unite and show solidarity. To challenge, demonstrate and raise awareness about political, industrial, social and community issues.”

Ted still remembers his first May Day march. “My father took me on his shoulders. He was part of the May Day march, marching with the Miners Federation. They marched down Crown St. My father was president of one of the miners’ lodges. I was four years old. It was 1933 and I have attended May Day every year since then.”

Is there a particular May Day that stands out? “There’s been more than one. I worked in the mines and we had meetings [about what we were going to do for May Day] at the pit top. That was the way people worked. That was at Thirroul.”

Jump forward to the situation facing workers today and Ted is critical of Labor politicians who just “make a lot of noise around election time”. “I know that it is an old fashioned term, but they need to start to think about the needs of the working class.”

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