Australia Capital Territory & South Australia
Labour Day is an annual public holiday that celebrates the eight-hour working day, a victory for workers in the mid 1850s. The argument for the eight-hour day was based on the need for each person to have eight hours labour, eight hours recreation and eight hours rest.
|The Garrison Church: sketch by Peter Neilson on the 150th anniversary of the eight hour day in Sydney|
On 18 August 1855 Sydney stone masons building the historic Garrison Church (Trinity Church) in The Rocks downed tools and marched into town demanding an eight hour day. After winning the claim on 1 October 1855 the masons celebrated with a slap up dinner. There is still no memorial to their pioneering victory on or anywhere near the church. Instead Sydney remains full of statues of dead white men who opposed such a limit on the hours of exploitation in the name of freedom.
Two employers, with substantial contracts for public buildings at the Western Market and Parliament House, resisted the new working hours agreement. In response to their intransigency, the stonemasons lead a protest march from University of Melbourne to Parliament House, calling out workers at building sites on the way. Within a fortnight the contractors had given way.
Melbourne's building workers, generally without loss of pay or other conditions, had gained an unprecedented widespread and sustainable victory.
The First Eight Hour Day Procession
|Reproduction of the original 1856 Melbourne Eight Hour Day banner, designed by Thomas Vine.|
Shortly after 10 am the procession, about 1200 or 1500 strong. The procession was followed by a dinner for six to seven hundred, speeches, sports and other festivities including fireworks.