The Age (Tuesday May 7, 1901) tells how the anarchist 'Yarra Banker' and trade union pioneer, John "Chummy" Fleming lead an unemployed protest to disrupt the Mayor's welcome to the Duke and Duchess of York and the Ducal party.
Just as the Mayor was about to speak, "Fleming remarked that he was very sorry that in the circumstances he could not, on behalf of his party, extend a welcome to their Royal Highnesses, in view of the fact that they believed thousands of people here were out of work, and many in the colonies were consequently suffering the miseries of starvation. The Government had forced excessive burdens on the people, and were endeavouring, by a false and expensive show, to make the Royal visitors believe that everybody was prosperous and contented..."
Detective Stokes ran down the steps to the Yarra Bank and ordered Fleming to cease speaking. Fleming replied that he was just addressing a few friends. As a response to what Fleming called "the outrage on the right of free speech", Fleming and his friends burst into singing the Marsellaise. The Ducal Party continued their procession.
Three days later, according to the Tocsin (May 16, 1901), Fleming "thought that the unemployed ought to be officially represented up at the Exhibition Building spread on Thursday evening in connection with the opening of the Federal Parliament. So he just strolled in, and after a friendly confab with one or two Labour members, who greatly enjoyed the idea, proceeded to luxuriate in the toffiest part of the whole assemblage. His presence was a grief of mind to Detective Macnamany, who assiduosly tailed him for three hours and a half. At the end of that time Fleming got tired of the sport and considerately gave the officer an opportunity of showing him the door."
I doubt the unemployed or anarchists will be represented at the centenary opening of parliament. But I think I caught a glimpse of the ghost of "Chummy" Fleming at the No God No Masters Anarchist and Autonomist conference at Melbourne University just before May Day, attended by about 250 people. The conference was held near where the Stonemasons first downed tools in April 1856 to march to the city for the 8 hour day. A campaign that succeeded and was an inspiration to the workers movement around the world.
"Chummy" Fleming was instrumental in starting May Day celebrations and marches in Melbourne. He was a member of the Melbourne Anarchist Club which formed on May 1st 1886. In 1899 he was elected to the 8 hours committee and to the executive of Trades Hall Council.
For May Day in 1901, Sunday 5 May, Melbourne's City Father's saw fit to ban the May Day procession. Around thirty hardy souls gathered at the Burke and Wills statue on Sunday the 5th of May outside State parliament to march to the Yarra Bank. Chummy Fleming, the Melbourne anarchist who initiated the first May Day March in Australia in Melbourne in 1891, led the procession carrying his red flag.
On May 1st this year I think I saw his ghost outside the Stock Exchange joining the protests against corporate greed and capitalism. And later that day perhaps there was a ghostly figure seen dancing in front of the eight hour day monument opposite Trades Hall. A crowd of young anarchists had taken over the intersection for a couple of hours to have a May Day street party. But I don't think Chummy would have been impressed with whoever did the graffiti on the monument. But the next day some anarchists diligently removed the graffiti! (See http://www.melbourne.indymedia.org/front.php3?article_id=9205.)
On Sunday May 6, I talked with Vic Little of the official May Day Committee. He remembers "Chummy" Fleming in the 1930s starting off early and walking slowly to let the May Day march catch up to him so that he appeared to lead the march.
This year, for the first time in more than 50 years, thousands of workers, students and community activists marched and protested against capitalism and corporate exploitation on May 1. The ghost of "Chummy" Fleming was there and I'm sure he would endorse moving May Day celebrations to May 1st every year.