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Vic Labour Day

March 13, 2017

The story behind Vic Labour Day

1856 | The Eight Hour Day March

The Eight Hour Day was a campaign in the 1850s that brought about one of the most important changes to the rights of workers. There were two major campaigns that took place both in Sydney and Melbourne but it’s the Melbourne movement that is widely known for successfully changing the general rights of workers for the better.

In 1856 on April 21st Victorian Stonemasons staged a well-organised and executed protest. The Stonemasons had been working on the construction of the Old Quadrangle Building the original site of Melbourne University when they all downed their tools and proceeded to march on to Parliament House along with other members of the building trade.

A similar strike had already been held that year in Sydney lasting two weeks and while the Stonemasons there had won the right to an eight-hour working day they had also had to suffer reductions in wages.

Contrary to the efforts in New South Wales the march held in Melbourne saw that the government agreed that workers employed on public works would have an eight-hour day while also having no loss of pay in the bargain. It was because of this that the Melbourne protest is now seen as a pivotal moment in the rights of workers one that inspired other changes over the many decades that followed.

During the march held in Melbourne those attending the protest carried banners that held the symbol of three figure 8’s. The intertwined numbers ‘888’ represented the ideal that the workers were fighting for – “8 Hours Work 8 Hours Recreation 8 Hours Rest”. Coined as early as 1817 by Robert Owen an English Socialist the significant motif of this slogan would later adorn the pediment of many of Aistralia’s union buildings.

Following the success of the Eight Hour Day protest the Stonemasons celebrated that year with a holiday and procession held on Monday 12th of May known as the the Whit-Monday holiday then. Inspiring all that benefited from the new law the parade saw almost 700 people take part in the march with patrons of the parade holding backgrounds in as many as 19 trades.

Travelling from the Carlton Gardens to the Cremorne Gardens in Richmond the march was a festive event with workers marching proudly with decorative banners alongside floats and bands performing.

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March 13, 2017
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