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Happy Labour Day

Written By: - Date published: 9:48 am, October 25th, 2021 - 14 comments
Categories: uncategorized - Tags:

We’ve written a bit about Labour Day over the years – see the archives for the origins, history, and importance of the day. Enjoying your weekend? Thank a unionist!

This Labour day is an especially important one.  Please remember our essential workers and if you have not already please get vaccinated.

14 comments on “Happy Labour Day ”

  1. As an aside, RNZ Concert is playing listeners' choices from 6am to midnight.

    Wonderful listening.

  2. Sacha 2

    Memories.

  3. Tricledrown 3

    Bring back Unions . I can't see why Unions can't connect with workers through social media.

    To many exploitative work places .Unions don't seem to have a strategy to become relative to the modern workplace.

    • chris T 3.1

      If I could make a suggestion.

      I have never actually belonged to one, but get their usefullness.

      I think if it were me I would do personal contact and chats over social media.

      Only because their emails are a bit spammy.

      Just a personal experience thing and you are actually asking for money. Make the effort to meet up

      • kejo 3.1.1

        Its a long time since I belonged to one too. Most of my employment being as a contractor but the need for unions has never escaped me. Try reading 'The Plimsoll Sensation by Nicolette Jones and understand the millitance [since subsided] of the Seamans Union. Cheers, Keith

    • McFlock 3.2

      Raise the Bar hospo union seems to be getting good traction in an industry regarded as hopeless as a membership pool. A lot of well-spent effort, there.

  4. kejo 4

    Unions. The people who brought us weekends.

    • Patricia Bremner 4.1

      Thank you Andrew Little for reinstating breaks, better pay, and the ability of 10 members to request to join a National body. And just putting work conditions and safety back on the table. Happy Worke’s Day Everyone.

  5. NZ Employers are still pretty miserable when you work Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays, very little thanks when you are salaried worker and work the above days. Just did it over the weekend as we are short staffed because of COVID, don't even get a thank you let alone any remuneration.

  6. mac1 6

    Samuel Parnell's speech. Last year I had the chance to act the part of Parnell who brought the concept of the 8 hour day to New Zealand. This is the speech he gave (w hich I hasten to add I wrote), at a ceremony in 1887 to celebrate and honour his efforts in 1840.

    "Well, thank you, ladies and gentleman.

    First I'd like to say that though I came from London I was raised by my mother and my father was a gentleman but I never knew him well enough to quite pick up on his accent.

    What I say today has obviously benefitted from the experience of hindsight. Had I known then what I know now may have resulted in a different campaign. Do we learn from the lessons of history? Because I must say that what I fought for in 1840 as a thirty year old has been largely lost over 47 years.

    I did my apprenticeship as a carpenter in London where I met with fellow workers and discussed politics and the social issues of the day. Life was so hard in the slums of London that at the age of 29 I decided to emigrate away to New Zealand. In London I was exposed to many ideas. Like Wellington here, sea ports expose us to new people and therefore new ideas. I lived through the European revolutions in 1830, and then in 1848. I was an idealistic young man back then.

    In the 1830s slavery for example was done away with back home in England. People's ideas and sense of social justice were changing.

    Those ideas came with me to Wellington.

    When I got here, labour was in great demand and my skills as a carpenter were in very short supply. I decided then that life had to be made fairer and more just. So I struck for the right of the eight hour day.

    I told the shipping agent, Mr Hunter, who wished to engage me. "We have twenty-four hours per day given us; eight of these should be for work, eight for sleeping, and the remaining eight for recreation and in which for men to do what little things they want for themselves. I am ready to start to-morrow morning at eight o'clock, but it must be on these terms or none at all."

    I would meet ships coming in to Port Nicholson and tell the new men that they too should work for the eight hour day only, to be worked between 8 and 5 pm. It was agreed in October 1840 at a meeting that anyone agreeing to longer hours should be thrown into the harbour.

    In 1841 employers tried it on, saying men labouring on the Hutt Valley road would have to work longer hours. So they struck, and they won. We all won.

    You all know the story but the reason we won was because for a period of time the balance between the demand for labour and the supply of labour was in favour of the workers. The people of capital had to agree to our demands. There was little option. And so we prospered. We all prospered.

    Now, the balance has well and truly swung the other way. We have had wars, and a depression recently. The 48 hour week has become a sixty hour week again, eight hour working days have become ten or twelve hour days, all for a pittance in wages.

    I escaped the slums of London to see them re-created here again in Wellington. Houses are cold, and damp and unhealthy, and rents are very high.

    At the end of life there is no help save charity and that's often lacking in our community now. I am an old man at 77 years of age. I'm past work now, and I couldn't save enough on the pittance I got paid in later years. With no family, I must needs take people's charity.

    After we won the right to a fight hour working day, the government opened up the gates for immigration. Floods of people came in, borrowing money to do it, to be the new labour force and driving down the wages earned by working folk.

    I weep for the unsafe mines and farms, the danger of sawmills and the forests to the timber workers, the health of coal miners and the danger of our coasts and oceans to seamen and fisherfolk.

    Now we lock this poverty in by having a pool of permanent unemployed who keep the price of labour down, and the workers docile , working for contractors who treat them like slaves and for dangerously long and tiring hours.

    However, ladies and gentlemen, in this year of 1887 I sense a change in the air, even to these old nostrils. The ideas of my youth are now being talked about again by a new group of politicians.

    Even though this government has entrenched its rural rump well and truly on the seats of power with the 1881 country quota, yet the working class in the cities will again be fully represented in the corridors of power. And shortly.

    After a period of misrule and the balance being too much in favour of the owners of capital, there comes the time of the reformer, when people have had enough.

    History tells us this.

    The history of our country has yet to be written, but I'd venture this will happen soon enough.

    I know a young man, living just over Cook Strait in the Wairau, Lindsay Buick. He's a carpenter like I was, which is how I heard of him; and he has the talent for it.

    That's why I make this speech. To recall the history of this country that I had some small part in making, for which you do me too much honour today.

    I've heard many tales in my life of this country. I met a man In Canterbury who was brought with his family as a shepherd by Hugh Buchanan who used to be his laird back in Scotland. Buchanan bought a huge part of Bank's Peninsula and farmed it as the Kinloch estate. One day in a hot Nor'-Wester, the two were working sheep in the pens. The dogs had all gone off into the shade and weren't to be seen. Buchanan said to his shepherd, "Rin away after the sheep, Angus," Angus Kennedy said back, "I'll nay rin,. You can rin yoursel'!"

    That story illustrates what has become of New Zealand since 1840, where instead of decent working hours and conditions, a man is treated like a dog.

    I heard of another story about how migrants were treated in Canterbury. A few years ago, in Loburn north of Christchurch, a man spoke at a meeting called to address the problem of the incoming migrants described as the 'sweepings of the streets of Europe". This man, Thomas White, said that he was one of them, and by working hard after immigrating he had earned a little farm and had a few sheep. I saw his name in the 1881 Sheepowners' Census. He was doing all right. Like me he was an immigrant and he prospered.

    As some did. Others live lives of penury and harshness.

    New Zealand in 1840 was indeed a land of promise, of milk and honey as Thomas White had it described to him.

    Now, looking back, I'm not sure we've kept that promise. But the signs are changing. The last month's election has returned the old school. But with women getting the vote just four years ago things are bound to improve. Who knows where that might all lead us?

    And maybe us older folk might get some kind of assistance from the Government. After all, I paid my taxes all my working life. And maybe those big estates like the Kinloch estate, or the one at Cheviot, can be bought up by the government and ballotted out to decent folk needing land to farm animals like I do here in Karori.

    You honour me today. I hope you don't go and build a statue for me like they do for politicians and old soldiers. I'll be content with the statue that we will all have when we die.

    Just bury me up at Bolton Street. Maybe some of you will turn out for my funeral.

    And better, maybe some of you will continue on with this work of reform for the betterment of all our people".

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