Monday, 6 May 2019

Labour Day / Eight Hour Day

In North Queensland in the early 1900s, the Eight Hour Day procession, or “demonstration” as it was called, was a precursor to later Labour Day parades and was designed to celebrate the attainment of the eight-hour working day in Queensland in 1856.
One of the Butchers’ Union floats in the Eight Hour Day Procession at Charters Towers, May 1914.
Source: State Library of Queensland 
The eight hour day had been a hard won battle based on the principle of eight hours toil, eight hours rest, and eight hours recreation for all workers. Early processions involved elaborately decorated floats showcasing union banners and working trade displays, which made their way through main streets, and were followed by a competitive sports carnival that was open to all.

The day was just as much about unionists displaying pride in their trade or occupation as it was about a show of industrial solidarity. 

In most towns throughout the north, Eight Hour Day processions were celebrated with gusto, and in 1914, the Charters Towers newspaper The Evening Telegraph, reported on the largest Eight Hour Day Parade the town had seen so far.

“Monday morning broke fine and clear for the celebration of Eight Hour Day on Charters Towers. Thday was observed as a general holiday, and at an early hour people flocked into the main street to view the procession.

Larger crowds turned out than for any previous May Day, and both sides of the streets along the route of the procession were densely crowded with spectators. The long procession started from the Union Hall shortly before 10 am, with the Fire Brigade Band marching at the head of the procession.”

Following behind were a variety of trade unions, including the Bakers float, which had a representation of a brick oven and a number of bakers on the lorry who were engaged in the operations of their trade. At places along the route they handed out buns to the people lining the streets. 
Float of the Federated Enginedrivers and Firemens Association, in the Eight Hour Day Procession, Charters Towers, 1914.
Photo: State Library of Queensland.
The Engine Drivers’ Association had their fine banner erected on a four-horse lorry, with about 50 members in attendance, and the Typographical Union had a number of printers at work on a two-horse lorry, issuing copies of the “Eight Hour Day Times” as they proceeded.

But it was the Butchers’ Union that stole the show. According to The Evening Telegraph:

“The Butchers had their handsome banner on a two-horse lorry, followed by a four-horse lorry with a representation of a shop well filled with beef and mutton, a two-horse lorry with a profuse display of smallgoods, a two-horse lorry with a slaughter house, in which a bullock was killed, skinned and divided on the route, and another two-horse lorry with a slaughter house, in which six sheep were killed and dressed.” 

This must have been quite the spectacle and undoubtedly the floats that followed –including the Horticultural Society with its lorry decorated with flowers, evergreens, and a display of fruit and vegetables; and a two-horse lorry, with the Military Nurses display showing two nurses attending to patients lying on stretchers – must have seemed pretty mundane compared to the Butchers’ Union floats.

The procession marched from the Union Hall to the railway station and then back to the show grounds where judging of the floats took place. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Butchers’ Union took out first place, winning £8 in prize money.