May Day - an international day of workers protests and celebration - came to Melbourne today in a small but anarchic way. May Day in Australia is not what it once was but is still carried forward by elements of the trade union movement and the broad left including anarchists.
Anarchists have been associated with May Day in Melbourne for 126 years with the formation of the Melbourne Anarchist Club on May 1st, 1886 while a huge labor demonstration was about to occur in Chicago and other US cities. The anarchist Chummy Fleming chaired the first May Day public meeting on the Yarra Bank in 1892. Anarchists continue to be part of the tradition of May Day in Melbourne.
The Victorian Trades Hall Council holds an official May day march on the first Sunday in May, but also with other events through the week including a wreath laying at the Eight Hour Day monument.
In 2012 a small commemoration organised by Joe Toscano and the Anarchist Media Institute was held in front of Her Majesty's Theatre where the MAC held it's first public meeting in a first floor office on May 1, 1886.
Here is how Joe Toscano described the significance in the Anarchist Age Weekly newsletter:
The 1st May marks the 126th Anniversary of the establishment of the Melbourne Anarchist Club, Australia's first anarchist organisation. On the 1st May 1886 Fred Upham from Rhode Island, Melbourne born brothers David and William Andrade and three other members of the Australian Secular Association heeding the call from the Federated Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada to make the 1st May 1886 an international day of protest to promote the eight hour working day, established the Melbourne Anarchist Club. In Victoria, May Day has always been a significant day for anarchists. In 1892 the well known Melbourne anarchist and agitator, Chummy Fleming, who “Chummie Lane” in Carlton is named after, chaired the first public May Day celebrations in Melbourne on the Yarra Banks.
Chummy Fleming was involved in over sixty May Day celebrations in Melbourne. In 1952 his ashes were scattered on the Yarra Banks during the May Day celebrations. Ironically, 123 years after the International Labor Day Congress in Paris 1889 decided to endorse the Federated Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada’s call to make the 1st May a “great day of international demonstration” that the life work balance is still such a significant issue in the 21st century. In the deregulation, privatisation and globalisation era we have forgotten we work to live, not live to work. The 1st May, irrespective of whether it’s publicly acknowledged or not, highlights the struggle to create a society where people work to live is still a significant issue for each and every one of us.
But the main public event was a gathering at the Melbourne Eight hour day monument. For several years the anarchist and trade union activist Chummy Fleming was on the Melbourne Eight Hour Day committee which raised funds to erect the monument.
The gathering then held a vary anarchic march through the streets of Melbourne, going past the Police Remand Centre, the Law Courts where Max Brenner protestors are defending their right to protest in court, the Reserve Bank of Australia, several of the big 4 bank branches, and the Victorian parliament on Spring Street, before ending back at the 8 hour day monument, opposite Melbourne Trades Hall.
The march was relatively small, perhaps 50 people, and soon attracted a 20 strong police escort. The best part was the music being pumped out of the sound system on the support vehicle. It made a long and potentially boring march into something a little bit more bearable.
Just like on May Day 2001 I had the feeling the ghost of Chummy Fleming accompanied us on the march and benevolently smiled at all the young people keeping the spirit of anarchism alive, even though fashions and music have drastically changed. He would have been chuffed at Jacob Grech's speech today at the Eight hour day monument.
A further rally occurred at 5.30pm organised by Australia Asia Worker Links (AAWL). A march through city streets ocurred after this rally.