Work-life balance is an enduring concern. Time has always been precious for working people. May Day 1890, the first time, marked the international campaign to deliver the Eight Hour Day to working people.
Industrialisation had ended the relaxed pace of rural working life for many people. Instead work hours were long and rigid. Dividing the day into eight hours of work, eight hours of leisure and eight hours of rest seemed to be a fair solution, for those who wanted something better.
Assisted emigrants to Australia wanted something better and were at the right place and the right time to achieve it. Almost forty years before the first May Day in 1890, the Eight Hour Day was won by Australian workers.
If you want to know more, a book for your reading list is The Australian Colonists by Ken Inglis. Ken’s classic book covers the social history of Australia from 1788 to 1870. This is the book to read to start understanding how people lived in colonial Australia.
As explained in The Australian Colonists, in early 1856, the stonemasons of Melbourne resolved not to work more than eight hours a day, six days a week. Two employers held out. On 21 April 1856, the stonemasons stopped work to protest against the employers. The workers marched to Eastern Hill, others joined in, until about 700 were marching. The stonemasons were clear they would not work for any employer who held out.
Within a few weeks nearly all workers in the building trades in Melbourne won the Eight Hour Day without any loss of wages, and it was extended to other jobs, including quarrymen, saddlers and harness-makers.
In Melbourne the anniversary of the 1856 protest became a major celebration and prominent reminder for working people of the continuing fight to improve working conditions. The day’s festivities included a toast: the Eight Hours System, may its physical, intellectual, moral and social advantages be extended to every member of the human family.
Does anyone know why getting the Eight Hour Day was called obtaining the boon?
Eight Hour Day Trade Union banner