Monday, October 07, 2013

Labour Day 2013 - ACT, NSW, QLD, SA

Queensland, New South Wales,
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.
On 21 April 1856, following negotiations between building tradesmen and contractors, and with the approval of the colonial government, an eight hour day was introduced into the building trades in Melbourne. The movement was led by the stonemasons who argued that eight hours a day was appropriate in the Australian heat. It would also give them time to improve their 'social and moral condition'.

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.
Melbourne building unions led by the stone masons and the banner above, celebrated their Eight Hour Day victory on the Whit-Monday holiday, 12 May 1856, with a procession from the Carlton Gardens to the Cremorne Gardens in Richmond. A special banner, 8 Hours Labour 8 Hours Recreation 8 Hours Rest, was launched.

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.

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