Eight Hour League 150th Anniversary

11You are welcome to visit the “150th Anniversary of the Newcastle Eight Hour Day” Exhibition and Library until Friday 6 December, 2019.

WHERE: 406\408 King Street, Newcastle. Hunter Unions Building level 2
WHEN: Mon-Fri 10am-2pm, until 6 December.

The Eight Hour Committee was the forerunner to Newcastle Trades Hall Council (Hunter Workers).

By Rod Noble

The Eight Hour Day Movement
The current Hunter Workers organisation can trace its origins back to the first regional body of combined unions (Eight Hour Committee) formed in 1869 in Maitland and Newcastle. The Eight Hour Committee instituted its first procession in Newcastle in 1883 and convened the formation meeting of the first Newcastle Trades and Labour Council in December 1885, which, though relatively short lived, indicated a growing move towards independent industrial organisation in the region.

Many marvellous banners and elaborate floats were constructed over the years and a festival like atmosphere prevailed in the district each year on the Eight Hour Day.
It was the Eight Hour Day Demonstration Committee which successfully campaigned for the Trades Hall to be built in 1895 and members of the committee became the Hall’s trustees.

In 1921, the committee although maintaining its legal registration as “Eight Hour Day Demonstration Committee”, became known locally as the “Labour Day Committee”. By 1923 the Eight Hour Day celebrations, usually held in October/November, gave way to May Day celebrations held on or close to 1st May.

May Day
Although May Day was celebrated in some form in the region in the early 1890s it did not take on any great significance until 1921 when miners declared May Day a holiday and instituted celebrations on the coalfields. By 1923 these celebrations included grand processions. Newcastle itself hosted its first May Day procession in 1931 although the day had been celebrated from 1923 in other ways such as concerts, sports events and carnivals.

Why did these changes come about?
There were a number of reasons for these changes. First, the eight-hour principle had largely been won throughout the union movement. Second, a new militancy had developed. This was the result of the WW1 conscription issue, the 1917 strike, and the Russian Revolution. The question of the international solidarity of the working class was on the agenda – hence the importance of May Day.

Formation of Newcastle Trades Hall Council in 1926 – a major historic event
In 1926, the “Eight Hour Day Committee” (Labour Day Committee) organised the joining together of the Committee (under their auspices), with the then “Newcastle Industrial Council”, to become registered as the single organisation we know today. Namely, the “Newcastle Trades Hall Council and Eight Hour Day Committee”. Re-branded in 2015 as “Hunter Workers”. Now tracing its origin back 150 years.

A Proud History of Union Achievements
The many decades of struggle for the 8-hour day, for the 40-hour week, early closing, workplace health and safety, a decent living wage, job protection, for peace and against war, and for protecting and maintaining the environment, are each a chapter in this region’s union history. We should not forget that human labour created the wealth on which our standard of living is based. It is the workers of the region that improved the overall standard of living and made the valley what it is today. Many of the images show the pride that workers place in what they create.

Trade Union Culture in the Hunter Region
Through its organisations, the working class exhibits a rich cultural history. Its activities in this field have been varied, ranging from sports, theatre, processions, music bands, educational colleges, debating societies to the Workers Club Cooperative Movement.
This exhibition focuses on the 8 Hour Day & May Day celebrations and processions.
These annual events were, and still are, an important aspect of working-class culture in the Hunter Region. The banners themselves are part of a tradition going back to the nineteenth century and so too the bands.

Newcastle Branch of the Bakers Union Float – 8 hr Demonstration, 1914. Courtesy: Ron & Joy Masterton
The Stonemasons 8 hour float, Newcastle, 1921. Courtesy : Newcastle Trades Hall History Collection
MAY DAY 1945. Communist Party Float, woman on float is Vera Deacon. Courtesy Stan & Vera Deacon.
Yugoslav Community Float, May Day, late 1940s. Courtesy Jan Anderson
Newcastle Housewives Assoc. Float, late 1940s. Courtesy Jan Anderson
Co-operative Movement Float, May Day, late 1940s. Courtesy Jan Anderson
One big Union Float, Union Street, 1915. Courtesy Newcastle Trades Hall History Collection

The photographs show people expressing a desire for the righting of injustices, for progress towards better living standards, and for building a society where peace, prosperity and wealth can be shared by all.

Miners Women’s Auxilliary, 1953. Donated by Bessie Ridley.


The Newcastle People’s Chorus – at Exhibition Launch 20 November 2019

Exhibition Credits
Researcher and Curator: Rod Noble.
Reprographics: Roger Broadbent.
Artwork: Lauren Graham and Rod Noble.
Participants: Jan Anderson, Jean Bailey, Peter Barrack, Jane Brisley, Fred Brown, Alan Chawner, Ted Clarke, Gladys Crawford, Stan and Vera Deacon, Alex Dowling, David Marley, Peter and Chris Marsh, Ron and Joy Masterson, Bob Phillips, Rod Noble, Laurel Quillen, Bessie Ridley, Henry and Grace Scanlon, Keith Wilson.
Organisations: Newcastle Regional Library; Newcastle Trades Hall Council; Newcastle Workers Club Co-operative; Auchmuty Library Archives, University of Newcastle.
©The 150th Anniversary Exhibition has been produced by Rod Noble in honour of Hunter Workers celebration.

There is also an extensive Library at the Hunter Unions Building containing historic sources and archives. Please contact admin@newtradeshall.com or Rod Noble rod50405@gmail.com for further information.

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