Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Eight Hours – Labour Day

As the eight hours movement progressed so pressure on the young state parliaments now more dependent on working class voters, led to legislation to support the shorter working day. Not all were in favour of course, and the long period of yearly commemorations attests to the need of the labour movement to constantly reinforce a growing determination to extend the eight hour day to all workers. Apart from Bright’s ode the Trades Hall above, the earliest poem I have discovered that evokes the eight hours movement was a squib entitled ‘The Police And The "Eight Hours" Law’ which was published in South Australia in December 1863.

O, have you heard the latest news
About the brave and loyal "blues"–
The Adelaide policemen!
Both night and day they pace the pave,
And teach us how we should behave–
They guard, but do not fleece men.

For six hours at a stretch they walk,
And dare not with civilians talk.
Lest Peterswald should eye them.
They dare not "cus" at either sex,
Or take a glass of double X,
Though old friends hard may try them.

But who'd believe it? Still 'tis true,
A regulation hard and new?
Comes into operation.
And makes these men, so stanch and sound,
For eight hours 'stead of six go round
Their stern perambulation.

O Ayers! O Hart! O Warburton!
We're shocked at what you've been and done,
The cits all say and swear it,
We would parade you round the town,
With heads erect and eyes adown,
And see how you would bear it.

Ironic as it is, this poem highlights the currency of the debate about the push to enshrine the eight hour day in legislation. The possibility that the eight hour day might force an increase some workers’ hours seems as unlikely as the existence of a policemen’s union in 1863. Henry Ayres and John Hart were both premiers of colonial South Australia. Peter Egerton Warburton was an early explorer in Western Australia who became Commissioner of Police in South Australia in 1853. William J. Peterswald was Inspector of Police in South Australia.

The Melbourne based Australian For Home Readers of 19 May 1866 carried a large plate of the eight hour demonstration of that year, showing the long procession of workers lined up in separate trades marching behind their banners. The street is lined with onlookers and the plate is titled ‘Eight Hours Demonstration.’ The same issue carries a more than column length report of this demonstration:

The tenth anniversary of the eight hours movement took place on the 21st ult., with very, successful results. A procession started from the Trades' Hall, Lygon-street, Carlton, and marched by the usual route to the North Botanical Gardens, where a large number of people assembled. The trades banners were a conspicuous feature, both in the procession and in the gardens, where they were tastefully distributed over the grounds. The ironmoulders exhibited one for the first time, which attracted considerable attention. On one side several workmen are represented, pouring the molten metal into a mould, and on the other two men are seen, each with his hand on a cog-wheel, and with various implements of labor about them.

The reporter is aware of the changes in the demonstration, in this case that the “ironmoulders exhibited” a banner for the first time – an indication of growing trade union consciousness in the organisation, a consciousness of the need to publicise the organisation, to show unity and encourage awareness of the labour movement as a whole. The description of the work of the moulder on the banner “with various implements of labor about them” and the “pouring of metal into a mould” indicates a pride in the skill and utility of the trade. The report also describes the cultural activities and entertainments that came at the end of the day-long celebration:

In the evening a performance was given at the Theatre Royal in connection with the demonstration. The pieces played were Goldsmith's comedy of "She Stoops to Conquer" and the burlesque of "Faust," and they went off with great success, thanks to the exertions of Miss Adelaide Bowering, Mrs Phillips, Messrs Hoskins and Coppin; and the other members of the company. After the conclusion of the comedy Mr Bennett, secretary to the committee, led Miss Adelaide Bowering to the front of the curtain, when she delivered in a most successful and admirable manner the following address … 'We commemorate this day; the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the eight hours system in Victoria, and inasmuch as, in the minds of all thoughtful men, some reverence for the past blends with our satisfaction at the present, and with our hopeful expectations of the future, we take pride in remembering that the division of the four and twenty hours which we adopt was that prescribed by Alfred the Great, which assigned eight hours to labor, eight hours to recreation, refreshment and instruction, and eight hours to repose ; so that the wisdom of remote antiquity sanctions the principle we celebrate to day.

This report provides us with much of the philosophy behind the movement, with many hints as to its sources. Alfred the Great, for example, was much admired by the Chartists as a venerable source of their thinking about traditional rights, predating by centuries the Norman conquest of Britain, feudalism and the Magna Carta. The exhibitions, sports and entertainments after the demonstration are an adaption of the age-old fairs. That “dancing was carried on throughout the day, the bands being incessant in their labors” again evokes the Chartist demonstrations in Britain. The evening concert performances draw on Goldsmith, another favourite of the Chartists.

In 1874 the Victorian weekly the Bacchus Marsh Express carries the following poem about the eight hour celebrations in Melbourne under the heading ‘Eight Hours Anniversary’:

The following lines were recited at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, on Tuesday night, 21st ult.:–

'Tis a rare throng to-night of smiling faces,
Of cankering care methinks I see no traces;
And if I read those cherry [sic.] sounds aright
Your hearts are mirrored in your faces bright.
And wherefore comes this pleasant company?
This brimming house from pit to gallery,
This goodly gathering that glads the eye,
And prompts me to inquire the reason why?
Listening the answer, comes to me a voice
Which says–" It is the day that we rejoice;
Day of thanksgiving for a victory won,
End of a struggle centuries since begun,
Long fought we for it, fierce and sharp the strife,
For Liberty is better far than life.

It seems remarkable that this poem composed for recital for the eighteenth eight hours anniversary finds its way into the local newspaper. Its conversational tone is more like a speech than a poem but it weaves a careful story “of a struggle centuries since begun”, paraphrasing the rebel slogan “liberty or death” and proposing a cultural need for the conditions won, a hegemonic victory of right over might:

And it was leave to live for which we asked,
To rest the weary frame, too much o'ertasked;
To stay the hand ere yet the day declined,
So we might give some culture to the mind.
We struggled, and we conquered, and the Right
Planted its foot upon the vanquished Might.
And men looked on, with wonder in their eyes,
A bloodless battle for a glorious prize.
The standard planted, deep within the soil,
We marked the noble victory of toil.
'Tis a brave answer, and the pride is just,
Man was not born to grovel in the dust;
For, though in labour there's nobility,

The argument that workers deserve their rest is as old as the argument that the labourer is worth his pay. Rest is regarded as having a physical, mental and spiritual dimension, the products of labour and the worth of the worker need no special laws but are assumed rights that “by custom are decreed.”

Rest, Labour's proper co-mate claims to be.
Rest for the cunning fingers and the thews
That overtasked, their functions oft refuse;
Rest, that the intellect its food may take,
And the soul off its gathering torpor shake.
For grimy hands and polished mind may be
Associate in fitting harmony.
Among the world's great men of deathless fame
Hundreds have lived, who owned a workman's name.
Rejoice we then that in this favoured land
Labour and capital go hand in hand;
That labour's rights by custom are decreed,
Strong custom, that no statute aid doth need;
That he who works, works not as once they wrought
Who spent through life their wretched strength for nought;

The poet celebrates the hegemonic shift that the eight hours campaign has wrought, a shift that “no power malign can ban”, a shift that “now shall last for ever.”

But willing-works, and as he toils the while
Light is his heart and on his brow a smile.
So much the Eight-hour system hath procured
That you enjoy, where they of old endured;
You illustrate the truth, man was not meant
For only physical development;
But all the higher nature must be free,
Soaring for ever towards infinity.
This boon, I trust, may never cease to bless
The toilers of earth with happiness;
What solid joys no power malign can ban,
That spring from out the nobler part of man.
I bid God speed, then, to your grand endeavour,
The Eight-hour system now shall last for ever.

Eight Hours Competitions and Prizes

Eight-hour competitions become part of the organising agenda it seems. In the Williamstown Chronicle in 1875 we find this report

I am sorry that an error escaped my notice in the number of marks which should have been given to Walter-Mitchell in the printed list of prize-takers. In determining who should get the special prize his position was rightly put down, but his marks should have been 75 instead of 65. As this error has caused some to think that Elizabeth Crane scarcely got justice, Mrs. Hodgkinson and I have gone carefully over the exercises of both again, giving in both cases the same values, and the results are as follow—
Possible or maximum, 88½.
Walter Mitchell, 75.
Elizabeth Crane, 70.
JOHN CLARK, Examiner.

An interesting feature of this report is that the essays submitted for the competition were marked out of 88½ rather than a more normal figure like 100. I suggest this is the closest a non-decimal system could come to 88.8 – a reflection on how seriously the 8-8-8 anniversary celebrations were taken at the time. By the twentieth anniversary in 1876 the annual demonstration had taken not just a familiar route but followed a familiar pattern:

The annual demonstration of the Eight Hours Association was held yesterday, and though the event does not now create the intense excitement that was observable during the struggle between the workmen and their employers, still the holiday which celebrates the concession is the great event of the year among the tradesmen of Victoria. As usual, all the buildings in course of erection in the city were gaily bedizened with flags, the Government offices at the rear of the Treasury being very conspicuous. The weather was fortunately bright and pleasant, and the members of the different trades, with their wives and families, had a most enjoyable day for their holiday.
The first banner in the line was that of the plumbers, then came the bricklayers, the plasterers, the iron shipwrights, the engineers (with their banner on a carriage designed for the purpose), the Port Phillip Shipwrights, the sawyers and timber-yard employés, the seamen, the brickmakers and brickmakers' labourers, the carpenters, the operative masons, the iron moulders, the painters, the quarrymen, the gas stokers, and the Port Phillip sailmakers, Many of the banners were very handsome, but the most admired was certainly the banner of the Seamen's Union. On one side was represented the figure of Britannia, with a portrait of Mr. Plimsoll underneath, and on the other was a very spirited and well-executed sketch giving the figure of Neptune standing in a car forming a sea-shell, which is drawn along the waves by' three sea-horses, surrounded by mermaids

The “portrait of Mr. Plimpsoll” celebrates the revolutionary change in health and safety at sea brought about by the adoption of the Plimpsoll Line for ships, a law that Derby M.P. Samuel Plimpsoll campaigned for in the British parliament with the support of merchant sailors and their unions. The bill Plimsoll introduced in 1875 was defeated but his campaign grew so large it was passed in 1876.

By 1876 the annual eight hour day celebrations could involve the attendance of the Governor of Victoria:

The performances at the Theatre Royal yesterday evening were under the auspices of the Eight Hours' Association. There was a crowded attendance in all parts of the house. His Excellency the Governor was present, and remained throughout the performance. In the interval between "Sweet-hearts" and "Our Boys" Mr. Dampier recited the following address, written by Mr. Marcus Clark [sic], which was received with applause: 

Below are extracts from the Marcus Clarke poem published in full by the Argus:

Yet, still we love our April,

For it aids us to bequeath

A gift more fair than blossoms rare,

More sweet than budded wreath.

Our children's tend'rest memories

'Round Austral April grow ;

Twas the month we won their freedom, boys!

Just twenty years ago

We've left the land that bore us,

Its castles and its shrines;

We've changed the cornfields and the rye

For the olives and the vines.

Yet still we have our castles,

Yet still we bow the knee!

We each enshrine a saint divine,

And her name is Liberty!

Liberty! name of warning!

Did ye feel your pulses beat?

As ye marching, moved this morning,

All down the cheering street?
Then cheer for Young Australia, 

The Empire of the Free,

Where yet a greater Britain

The Southern Cross shall see.

We'll not forget, nor yet regret, 

The land from whence we've flown;  

But Britain was our fathers' land–  

Australia is our own, my friends,

Australia is our own !

The recitation of the Marcus Clarke poem (and its publication in the Argus) attest to trade union attention to literature and the arts as of course do the banners described in such detail. The lines that jump out include “Twas the month we won their freedom, boys! / Just twenty years ago”, which suggests the poem was written for the occasion. Towards the end it veers towards an acceptance of empire, yet there is an ambivalence perhaps in the line “The land from whence we've flown” suggesting a lucky escape from Britain itself, “our fathers’ land” and finally, a claim that “Australia is our own, my friends, / Australia is our own!”, a claim that suggests a number of working class demands that were won in the colony such as the right to vote and the eight hour day, both famously achieved in the colony years before they were in Britain, the centre of the empire. Of course it also completely ignores the prior and infinitely longer ownership of the continent by the Aborigines.

In 1881 a competition for a poem about the eight-hour day was organised by the Eight-hours Demonstration Committee in South Australia. First prize went to Julian Woods as reported in the South Australian Register:

The following stanzas have been awarded the prize of £5 5s. offered by the Eight-hours Demonstration Committee, and which has been elected out of thirty-six productions sent in for competition

As with the records of so many competitions even to the present day the winning poem raises in the mind of the collector the question: what happened to the other thirty-five? This question could be asked about all the many union competitions down the years, but at least we can claim that hundreds of such literary works must have been written even if only a handful survived through publication. The fact that any were published in the newspapers attests to an audience for such material. The published winning poem is titled ‘The Eight-Hours System’:

In days of yore, long gone before.

When first the world began.

From morning's light till falling night

Was toiling-time of man.

And fancy brought no better thought

Of pleasure to their breast ;

'Twas night, they said, not day was made

For toiling hands to rest.

But days of light, with knowledge bright,

Illume the world since then ;

Now work and rest and pleasure's zest

Adorn each day for men.

Nor from this day shall riches' sway

Forbid the toilers' mirth.

Nor shall men slave until the grave

Gives rest denied on earth.

For pleasure's hour and learning's power

Should deck all men and lands.

Not only those whose fortune throws

Their work on others' hands.

And well man knows the strength that grows

When steadfast hearts combine ;

So now unfurled through all the world

The Eight-hours banners shine.

Men equal all is now the call

That sounds from East to West ;

So equal time in every clime

For work, and play, and rest.

Eight hours to sleep in midnight deep.

Eight hours of toil a day :

Eight hours to rove in learning's grove.

For pleasure and for play.

JULIAN E. WOODS. Norwood, August 22, 1881

The poem has many interesting lines “Nor shall men slave until the grave / Gives rest denied on earth” and  “Not only those whose fortune throws / Their work on others’ hands” suggesting an egalitarian thinker who understands the exploitative nature of the capitalist system. The egalitarian argument is reinforced by the penultimate verse “Men equal all is now the call / That sounds from East to West / So equal time in every clime / For work, and play, and rest” That verse also suggests an internationalist view, rather than the sometimes supremacist one. The most likely author is Julian Edward Tenison Woods who died in 1938, and would have been 21 in 1881. He was from Norwood, a well known sportsman and a leading member of a trade union:

The death has occurred of Mr. Julian Edward Tenison Woods, aged 78 years, of Grange S.A. He was a well-known journalist in Western Australia, Victoria, and South Australia, and for many years was a leading member of the Australian Journalists' Association. He was one of five brothers who played football with the Norwood League team, and was a member of the Australian championship side in 1878.

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