Solidarity Forever

Chapter Twenty-two


Leaflet advertising May Day 1924

Leaflet advertising May Day 1924.

Laidler made a special effort to revive May Day in 1924 and 1925. The 1924 effort stemmed from the Labor Propaganda Group. This was a united May Day with representatives of all organisations. E. F. Russell was President and P. Laidler Secretary. H. E. (Bert) Payne was very active in working for this. It was the first May Day with THC blessing since 1912. 60,000 leaflets both general and sectional were issued. The main resolution carried, ends with the words, "Remember, that in all lands, they celebrate this day. Come and Proclaim the International Solidarity of our class." It was headed "WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE. You have nothing to lose but your chains, and a world to win!"

The manifesto to unionists was circulated to union meetings and addressed "those who attend their union meetings":

Comrades, you are the life-blood of the Trade Union Movement. You are bulwarks against the wage reducing and sweating tendencies of the employers.

You are the live wires of the working class. We appeal to you to make the May Day Procession and Meetings a Big Success.

Thousands marching will have a good effect upon our opponents. It will stir interest and stimulate enthusiasm in the Labor Movement.

It will speed up our onward march to power . . .

It was a great success and wider than a purely Labor Party/Trades Hall Council affair. The march was preceded by a huge red flag, with the word "ANARCHY" across it, carried by Melbourne's lone anarchist, J. W. (Chummy) Fleming. Laidler had tried to talk his old friend and colleague of the unemployed days, out of it, but Chummy as an original founder of the May Day March in Melbourne in 1893 felt that he had a right to premier place. He marched about half a block ahead of the procession. Then came the Trades Hall Band and in the first rank of marchers were veterans, Dr. W. Maloney, M.H.R. (a co-founder of May Day with Fleming), George Prendergast, M.L.A., and Robert Solly, M.L.A. The ranks were swelled with ex-policemen and striking tramway men. Speakers at the Bank included the above veterans and Frank Anstey, Frank Brennan, Tom Tunnecliffe and Maurice Blackburn.

The Age of May 5th reported, "Maurice Blackburn, appealing on behalf of German workers, made a remarkable statement, that these workers were just as important to those present as Australians. Nationalism, like sectarianism, must go into the limbo of forgotten things. Color, creed, race and tradition should count for nothing."

The three resolutions carried, dealt with:

(1) Abolition of the capitalist system.

(2) Fraternal greetings all lands — internationalism.

(3) Campaign vigorously against exploiting class in our own country.


The May Day procession stretched over half a mile and 10,000 were on the Bank. The march was led by seven drovers on horseback with their dogs and had three brass bands. An international tableau represented twelve countries. Ninety former police marched and a lorry loaded with children displayed "No More War" posters. Maypole dancing preceded the speeches. There were three official platforms and at a given signal the resolution was put from all platforms simultaneously and carried with cheers. Preliminary Friday night meetings in all suburbs helped build the demonstration.

The total of thirty speakers included J. H. Scullin, Dr. Maloney, Frank Brennan, Tom Tunnecliffe, George Prendergast, Maurice Blackburn, Bob Solly, Jack Cain, A. W. Foster, Jean Daley, Mary Rogers, Jim Sheehan, E. J. Dickinson, and J. Shelley. The latter two speakers, being respectively I.W.W. and Communist. It had not reached the stage where ALP speakers refused to appear with Communist representatives.

Meetings were held at night at the Bijou Theatre and Socialist Hall and these carried resolutions against war and to end capitalism. Dr. Charles Strong made a May Day address at the Australian Church. Laidler was Propaganda Secretary and E. J. Holloway Secretary. Other committee members were Charlie Crofts, W. J. Duggan, Messrs. Taylor, Darcy and R. Jeffries.

Laidler was identified with May Day as President of the Committee for many years.


Bertha Laidler May Queen

The May Queen at the 1924 Eight Hours' Day procession. The author of Solidarity Forever! modestly refrained from noting that she, the eleven-year-old Bertha Laidler, was the May Queen. (At that time the Eight Hours' Day public holiday in Victoria was in May. Later it was renamed Labour Day and moved to March.) (Argus, 6 May 1924.)

The Labor Propaganda Group had decided to try to revive the waning Eight Hours' Day procession and Laidler was on the Eight Hours' Committee. He threw all his energy into it as did other LPG members, in particular Mrs. Rickie and Bert Payne. It proved successful with 6155 marching. There were fourteen bands including the Scottish Ladies' Pipe and the South Melbourne Ladies' Pipe Bands. A May Queen was at the head of the procession. Motherhood Endowment was featured and demands for women to receive the same pay as men. Striking tramway men and the ex-police made a good section although the Argus May 6th stated referring to the police "nor was applause for them so continuous". The Carters' & Drivers' Union put in eight caparisoned greys in their display. The whole march took 45 minutes to pass a given spot. Veterans at the head of march were James Wardley aged 108, a foundation member of the Operative Bakers' Society; R. Honeybone of the Operative Masons and a David Woods and G. A. Stephens who in 1856 had marched as children in the first 8 Hours' Day procession. G. A. (George) Stephens was the son of 8 hours' pioneer, James Stephens. Dr. Maloney was with the veterans. The following four-year table clearly indicates that energetic organisation brings results:

Year No. Organisations Numbers people
1921 86 5700
1922 84 5045
1923 62 3550
1924 63 6155

On these figures, despite the swelling of the ranks by the tramways' strike there was still an increase of 1,100 instead of what would have been on the normal trend a still lower figure. The celebration was abandoned on the initiative of Vic. Stout, Secretary of the THC. The Moomba Parade is now held on that day.

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