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‘We are being overlooked’: May Day parade takes aim at government inaction

May Day 2022 was a reminder of how much work is to be done in the fight for fairer working conditions.

Thousands of unionists, activists and socialists gathered at Sydney Town Hall yesterday to commemorate the labour movement and the fight for fair working conditions. Led by Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey, the May Day parade featured speeches and chants before marching through the city to NSW Parliament House. 

May Day marks the date that Victorian stonemasons went on strike for better working conditions while building the University of Melbourne in 1856. They became among the first in the world to secure the eight-hour workday as a general industry standard, and inspired similar strikes internationally.   

Following a Welcome to Country by Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council representative Michael West, Shadow Minister for Education and Shadow Minister for Women Tanya Plibersek spoke to the rising cost of living and failures of the Morrison government.  

“For years, people have been saying that wages aren’t keeping pace with the cost of living,” she said. 

She referred to former Senator Mathias Cormann’s comments that low wages are a “deliberate design feature” of the government’s “economic architecture.” Plibersek highlighted Labor’s policies of protecting Medicare and the NDIS, instituting gender pay equity as well as ten days of paid domestic and family violence leave.

“Wherever I go around the country at the moment,” Plibersek continued, “this feeling is growing like a wave… a wave that will crash down on Scott Morrison on the 21st of May and wash away his government.” 

Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) member Natalie Walmsley then addressed upcoming planned industrial action and the importance of fighting for fair working conditions. 

Walmsley spoke to the importance of standing in solidarity with those on strike, including the NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) striking on 4 May, the School Strike for Climate on 6 May, aged care workers set to strike with the United Workers Union (UWU) on 10 May and the USyd branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) striking on 11-12 May.

Kogarah High School Principal Julia Ross (NSWTF) emphasised the value of public education and detrimental effects of the government’s neoliberal policies in the sector. 

Ross condemned the government’s decision to prioritise funding private over public schools, with student enrolment expected to grow by more than 150,000 by 2030, and the current teacher shortage only expected to worsen, with over 50,000 to permanently leave the profession by 2025. 

Representatives from the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA), the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU), and the UWU expressed their discontent with the government’s failure to invest in renewable energy, enforce safe nurse-to-patient ratios in aged care, or protect the Australian manufacturing industry.

Onlookers to the march through the streets of the CBD responded positively, cheering and raising their fists in solidarity. Protesters hugged, clapped and slapped each other on the back once the parade culminated outside of NSW Parliament. Here, members of the NSWTF band played classics of Australian rock and food trucks handed out free meals to all.

May Day 2022 was a reminder of how both State and Federal Liberal governments have failed to support fair working conditions for workers across the breadth of the Australian workforce. 

Despite this, the crowd’s optimism was palpable. With strikes and an election on the horizon, the 2022 May Day parade was marked by a hope that, like in 1856, lasting and effective change is within reach.

For more information on the upcoming staff strikes at USyd, click here. The SRC and the USU will be shutting down on 11-12 May in solidarity with the NTEU Strike.