Eight hours to work, Eight hours to play, Eight hours to sleep...

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“Eight hours to work,

Eight hours to play,

Eight hours to sleep,

Eight bob a day.

A fair day’s work,

For a fair day’s pay.”

 

On 21 April 1856 stonemasons working on the University of Melbourne downed tools and marched to the Belvedere Hotel, demanding a radical improvement in working conditions not yet won anywhere else in the world: a limited 8 hour working day, with no loss of pay.

 

Owing partly to the scarcity of skilled labour in Melbourne and the staunch spirit of the united workers, employers soon gave in to the 8 hours movement's demands. This pioneering achievement was celebrated on 12 May that year with a march and dinner, with speeches, games and fireworks - the genesis of an annual march and celebration that became an important cultural institution for over a century, and is still celebrated today as “Labour Day”.

 

Organising the 8 hours procession became a prestigious duty in Melbourne’s flourishing union movement, with committee members flaunting buttons such as the one in this case. The 8 hours committee would coordinate the floats and displays of each union and arrange for sporting activities, games and attractions for workers to enjoy during the celebration.  These were huge occasions: up to 25,000 people were estimated to enjoy the amusements in 1886.

 

The success of the campaign for an 8 hour day was also commemorated with Melbourne’s 8 hour monument. The original model for it, shown here, ultimately proved too costly for the working-class benefactors to produce. The monument we know today was moved from Parliament to opposite Trades Hall in 1924.