Labour Day 2023
It's a time to consider the history of Labour Day and its wider significance, with its connection to the Australian ideals of mateship and egalitarianism.
(the doctrine that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities)
Labour Day was first officially commemorated in 1912 and falls on the first Monday of May every year in Queensland. The day commemorates the achievements of the Australian Labour movement in fighting for equitable working rights and most notably the eight-hour day movement.
Labour Day is a day when we remember the sacrifices our forebears made: the mateship, the loyalty and the determination to build and protect the freedom and rights we now enjoy. We celebrate the toil of men and women everywhere.
Above and beyond its historical significance - it is a day all Australians can celebrate our egalitarian society, our innate sense of fairness and equity, and our willingness to campaign side by side for a better world. It is the day we celebrate the winding back of the exploitation and oppressive working hours that were the norm in the early nineteenth century during the Industrial Revolution. It is a day we remember the efforts of the labour movement which brought us the eight hour day.
Labour Day, particularly in today’s world is about family, freedom, and a fair go. It is about empowerment in a world where individuals still too often have little control over their own destiny when it comes to the workplace.
The history of Labour Day in Australia spans over 150 years. The day know as Labour Day in Queensland and the Northern Territory and May Day in other Australian states, is a celebration of workers' achievements throughout our nation's history ensuring generations to come remember those who struggled and succeeded to ensure decent and fair working conditions in Australia.
In light of the labour movement's successful push for an eight-hour day, a large May Day meeting was held in Melbourne on 1 May 1890.
The spirit of the activists and early workers organisers is summed up in Bernard O'Dowd's poem, "May Day" where he calls for Australians to stand up united and maintain their rights to an eight-hour work day;
Come Jack, our place is with the ruck
On the open road today,
Not with the tepid "footpath sneak"
Or with the wise who stop away.
A straggling, tame procession, perhaps,
A butt for burgess scorn;
Its flags are ragged sentiments,
And its music's still unborn.
Though none respectable are here,
And trim officials ban,
Our duty, Jack, is not with them,
But here with hope and Man.
The campaign was given a major boost when, on 1 May 1891, hundreds of striking bush workers held Queensland's first May Day procession through the streets of Barcaldine.
On 1 May 1891 more than 1000 striking shearers participated in a May Day march in Barcaldine, Queensland where their leaders wore blue sashes and they carried banners and the Eureka flag. It was reported that cheers were given for “the eight-hour day”. Henry Lawson wrote “Freedom on the Wallaby” to mark the day:
So we must fly a rebel flag
As others did before us,
And we must sing a rebel song
And join in rebel chorus.
We'll make the tyrants feel the sting
O'those that they would throttle;
They needn't say the fault is ours
If blood should stain the wattle.
So join us in celebrating Labour Day. Celebrate trade unions, freedom of association, vigorous debate and working families. For that is the sum of us.