May Day – bicycles building communities of workers: Val and Faith are in the studio today to celebrate May Day with stories of the bicycle and it’s crucial role in organising workers in Australia at the turn of the nineteenth century. After sharing our bike moments we dive right in!

A 19th century Shearer and his bicycle with everything he needs

Val kicks off with first May Day celebrations in the world here in Australia in 1891.  We take a look at when shearers fought for their rights. and the impact of the bicycle on shearer’s work and organising later in the 1890s as it allowed them to travel across long distances for work and became integral to their bargaining with employers. The Australian Worker’s Union found the bicycle so useful for reaching and organising workers they developed their own bicycle corps to do just that. 

The role of the bicycle in building a network and recruiting members continued into the C20th when Frank Anstey and David McGrath, then two young Labor MPs, toured Gippsland by bike in November 1904. Over twenty-two days with speaking events organised in eleven towns they recruited members for the Labourite League, harangued pastoralists and talked to farmers and miners in particular about their ideas. On their fixed gear bicycles with swags slung over their shoulders they rode the notorious roads of the High Country from Rutherglen and Wodonga via Tallangatta, Mitta Mitta  and Omeo to Bairnsdale. You can read a contemporary account of their journey here