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Labour day – thank a unionist

Written By: - Date published: 7:00 am, October 27th, 2014 - 72 comments
Categories: human rights, Unions, workers' rights - Tags: ,

Hope y’all are having a great long weekend! We all enjoy the holiday, but where does Labour Day come from? For reasons that will become apparent, it’s timely to repeat most of what I posted four years ago on the subject.

Labour Day celebrates the successful struggle for an eight-hour working day. Its a story that goes back to 1840, when London born carpenter Samuel Parnell arrived in NZ, landing at Petone beach. A fellow passenger asked Parnell to build him a shop, and Parnell’s response has entered New Zealand folklore:

I will do my best, but I must make this condition, Mr. Hunter, that on the job the hours shall only be eight for the day … There are twenty-four hours per day given us; eight of these should be for work, eight for sleep, 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.

Parnell soon enlisted the support of other workmen, and in October 1840 a meeting of Wellington workers apparently resolved to work eight hours a day (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.), with anyone breaking the rule to be ducked in the harbour. The practice spread and in 1857 painter William Griffin “led an agitation among the building trades”, which achieved the formal adoption of the eight-hour working day. Thus New Zealand was the first country in the world to have an eight-hour day, but only for tradesmen and labourers.

From 1882 onwards there were many efforts, and a union campaign, to legalise the eight-hour day. The first large scale events were on the 28 October 1890, when several thousand trade union members and supporters attended parades in the main centres (Government employees were given the day off to attend). The Liberal government was (plus ca change) reluctant to antagonise the business community, but instead The Labour Day Act of 1899 created a statutory public holiday as a suitable occasion to pay tribute to Parnell and the other pioneers. Labour Day was first celebrated in 1900, and ‘Mondayised’ in 1910, since when it has been held on the fourth Monday in October. Early celebrations of Labour Day were large public events, but they began declining in the 1920s.

Today very few people remember the history of Labour Day (I certainly didn’t until I started reading up on this in 2010). We take it all for granted. Reasonable hours. Meal breaks. Parental leave. Four weeks leave. The legal rights and protections of employment law. But these things didn’t happen by accident. And they didn’t happen out of the goodness of the employers’ hearts. They are rights hard won by workers and unions, past and present.

It’s timely to review that history because just yesterday Rodney Hide published a bizarro “underpants gnomes” history of Labour Day (duly regurgitated by the odious Farrar). According to Hide, because Parnell and Hunter negotiated an 8 hour contract, workers’ rights and protections are a victory of market forces! Hide’s brilliant analysis – “The practice caught on” – completely ignores the role of the 1840 meeting, the “agitation” of the building trades, and (as they became established) the role of the unions, as outlined above. Much as it bunches Messrs Hide and Farrar’s shorts, there’s a reason it’s called “Labour Day” not “Free Market Day”.

This National government is no friend of workers, and simply hates unions. Conditions have been eroded over the last 6 years, and with the passage of aggressively anti-worker employment legislation they will erode still further. But unions aren’t some kind of enemy, unions are just people. Unions are us. So let’s celebrate Labour Day while we still have it.

72 comments on “Labour day – thank a unionist ”

  1. mickysavage 1

    Thanks r0b.

    I read Hide’s article and thought “you have to be effing kidding”. The dislocation from reality was particularly high and for Farrar to do a nodding head on it was incredible. Next they will be claiming that the end of child slavery was due to market forces although it’s creation could be blamed on MF aka greed.

    There is another aspect to the 40 hour week I thought of recently. A friend’s son has a 28 hour a week job with Farmers Retail. He will often get 40 hours through further shifts but these need to be offered to him by the boss. I understand that this type of arrangement is more and more common.

    How likely is it that a young person would join a union if by doing so they may miss out on the extra hours needed to earn a living wage? And who could even think of buying a home when the level of their income is so uncertain?

    There has to be a better way.

    • karol 1.1

      I heard on RNZ news this morning, that ANZ striking workers planned to protest outside today’s cricket match in Hamilton. The match is sponsored by ANZ.

      Part of the workers’ complaints is that soem ANZ workers won’t know exactly how much work they have from month to month – they’ll be notified of their work schedule at the beginning of each month.

      This article from several days ago explains:

      The first strike in the dispute came earlier this month in response to the bank’s proposed changes to employment contracts that would provide more flexibility around staff working hours. The union says the changes would mean staff would only know on a month by month basis what days they would be required to work on and their starting and finishing times.

      First Union has described ANZ’s plans as “casualisation” of the workforce, saying workers have been prepared to allow up to 20% of the workforce to be flexible, but that wasn’t good enough for the bank with it wanting “every new worker to start on the insecure work contract.” For its part ANZ says the union is trying to create an issue out of this because its want a higher pay increase than “the very competitive” 3% and 2.75% per annum over the next two years offered to staff by the bank. See more on the previous strike and the dispute here and here.

      I can’t find any articles online about today’s planned action – though the cricket may be cancelled due to poor weather.

      • mickysavage 1.1.1

        Thanks Karol. The ANZ/Farmers world view is that we are all in this together and “flexibility” is in everyone’s best interests and why can’t we just get on.

        The reality is that the more “flexible” the labour force becomes the less the share ordinary people have of the economic system’s profits. A malign reality hidden behind some innocent sounding but disingenuous phrases.

    • tc 1.2

      Rortneys not kidding, him and the likes of DPF and cohorts take the business of spin, lies and deception aka Ditry Politics very seriously.

      It is how he makes a living and part of his reward for being a good boy and slamming through supershity. Get used to it as the BS levels go unchecked by our owned MSM.

    • Tracey 1.3

      revisionist history helps keep ACT and its 16,000 voters feeling smugly relevant. courtesy of that doyen of quality journalism, the nz herald…

      how quickly farrar regurgitates, if he didnt actually write it for hide(who knows, these guys squirm and lie so much you cant discount anything)…

    • Tracey 1.4

      sounds like he has a casual contract doesnt it, which is becoming more the norm. it means each shift signals the end of the contract, begun again at the employers behest…

    • Halcyon 1.5

      There is a better way. Don’t view working in this job as a lifetime job. Use it to gain experience that he can then market to find a better job. Always look for the next job with better pay or conditions. Employers are far more likely to employ someone who is currently employed and can demonstrate skills they are looking for than someone who can not demonstrate those skills.

      • Murray Rawshark 1.5.1

        The better way is for our combined union power to give the bosses no choice but to treat us reasonably. You are effectively putting the blame on the employee for bad industrial relations.

        I am proud to be a union member.

    • Grace Miller 1.6

      I join the union and deduct the fees from my bank account, so my employer never knows my union status. It’s deceitful and somewhat disingenuous, but as a lowly paid cleaner, I have to protect myself, and do so without my employer knowing.

      There has to be a better way, for sure. With these pigs at the trough in power, don’t hold your breath!

      🙂

  2. just saying 2

    “We take it all for granted. Reasonable hours. Meal breaks. Parental leave. Four weeks leave. The legal rights and protections of employment law.”

    Sorry -what?

  3. Rodel 3

    Mr Hide’s article is not just dislocation from reality. It is straight out lies.
    (The word ‘satire’ crossed my mind but Mr Hide isn’t that clever.)

    But what else can be expected from ACT except lies, and criminality?

    • Draco T Bastard 3.1

      I do note that may comment to Mr Hide’s diatribe calling him out on his re-write of history hasn’t been posted.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 3.1.1

        It’s Labour day for everyone except the Herald moderators.

        • Draco T Bastard 3.1.1.1

          I commented yesterday when there wasn’t any comments up at all.

          • One Anonymous Bloke 3.1.1.1.1

            Obviously they maintain full staffing levels on the Sunday before Labour Day too.

            • Draco T Bastard 3.1.1.1.1.1

              I posted mine before there were any comments had passed through moderation. In other words, my comment has gone into moderation and not come out. It can’t have anything to do with staffing levels as the comments obviously have been moderated.

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                Some comments have been moderated. I note many of them are critical of Hide and his lies.

                • Draco T Bastard

                  First moderation pass was at about 17:15 and the second around 19:10. Both of these times are well after I posted my comment.

                  You can keep making up excuses but the simple fact is that mine and others comments haven’t been published.

                  • Molly

                    I noticed that my comments – often contradicting logic fails in articles – can be held up for almost two days before being posted.

                    Tried not linking, posting within the hour, nothing seems to be a logical moderation method except moving some non-abusive but critical comments to when the article is no longer current, to maintain a semblance of balance from commentators.

                    • lprent

                      I presume that they don’t answer complaints either?

                      Find out if they are in OMSA, figure out some grounds that fit within the criteria, lay a complaint against them for each instance. Waste their time (which appears to be the only thing that OMSA was designed to do)

                  • One Anonymous Bloke

                    I’m not making excuses – I think it sucks that someone had to work on Labour day. It’s a newspaper, not a hospital.

                    • Kiwiri - Raided of the Last Shark

                      It’s a newspaper trying hard to keep the comatosed, terminal neoliberal patient going for a tad bit longer.

      • Not So Windy 3.1.2

        Thought nine comments and mine missing signified something. Could be part of a big club eh Draco?

        • One Anonymous Bloke 3.1.2.1

          Or simply waiting in the queue for the moderators’ attention.

        • KJT 3.1.2.2

          Sent two comments. They didn’t put mine up either.

          I notice that many of my comments, if they appear at all are put up weeks after the article.

          A couple today from a week ago.

      • Tracey 3.1.3

        ditto

      • Murray Rawshark 3.1.4

        They didn’t publish mine either. Usually I don’t even bother checking.

        All Hide is doing is aping the TeaBaggers in the US and A. They have rewritten thanksgiving to show how it was the pilgrims’ adoption of the free market and private enterprise that saved them. Nothing is safe from Rodney the Revisionist Historian.

      • Grace Miller 3.1.5

        And they won’t, either.

        Censorship is alive and well at the comic strips that masquerade as serious news titles.

  4. Foreign Waka 4

    With the law changes soon in place, NZ has become officially a third world labor camp. No meal breaks? Do people have to raise their hand when they have to go to the toilet too?
    It will take again 100 years to unfurl the damage. I wonder whether all employers really want to be the central hate figure? One thing seems to become transparent, the current ruling crowd sure must hate the people who have to work for a living.

  5. millsy 5

    ACT believes in freedom of everything except joining a trade union.

    Rodney Hide would gladly jail every union leader in the country. Like all right wingerd. Even some who say they are on the left want to ban unions. Like “once was pete”.

  6. Brendan 6

    Hello Standard readers,

    Excellent post today. If anyone is interested in my slightly more (loosely) philosophical take on Labour Day I’ve written a short piece on my intellectual musing blog right here.

    There’s a few other cool essays I’ve written including a good one on the American New Left in the 1960s. There’s some interesting quotes to keep you hooked too.

    Enjoy!

    Happy Labour Day!

    [lprent: Be very careful about link-whoring. Read the policy. You haven’t provided enough information for people to make a rational choice about why they would want to read your post or why it related to this post. So I have removed the link as we are not here as a free advertising site for you. If I see you doing it again, then you will lose the ability to comment here. ]

    • karol 6.1

      Brendan, you need to do more in a comment on TS than just drop in a link to your own blog and encourage people to go to it. There’s a not very nice word for that.

      The comment should include something that addresses the content of the post and/or other the discussion of the post.

      • Brendan 6.1.1

        Sorry,

        Perhaps I should just insert the actual piece into the comment?

        his is a one time link rather than one in a series of plugs. No intention to spam every Standard comment space with links. I just though my piece (which I wrote a couple of years ago and only just publicly published today) was relevant. It was probably a bit rude to droop in the plug. For that I’m sorry.

        • karol 6.1.1.1

          Generally when people make comments, they should be on the topic of the post and the following discussion. Links to supporting evidence are generally a plus. But it’s best to explain (at least briefly) the relevance of the link and what it contributes to the topic being discussed.

    • blue leopard 6.2

      @ Brendan,

      That is a good article and well worth the read. ( It is very short)

      I particularly like your first paragraph, where you encapsulate the type of circular logic that I am seeing a lot of these days. If people don’t free their minds and start thinking rather than thinking like slaves and merely repeating their masters’ logic, there isn’t really much hope for us.

      Good work Brendan, thanks

  7. What’s especially funny about Hide’s bizarro-world history is that he gives himself away here:

    Eight-hour days weren’t the custom in London, but he had little choice: there were only three carpenters in Wellington.

    Yep, in the unique circumstances of being half a world away from home and with highly limited options of supplier, the employer of 1840 for once in the whole of history didn’t have all the power.

    Now, of course, we have 2,500 people queuing for 150 jobs, but hey, Rodney’s right, I guess the idea of paying those people a living wage will magically “catch on”.
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10621612

    • Draco T Bastard 7.1

      +1

    • music4menz 7.2

      In the interests of accuracy, Stephanie, ‘now’ in your parlance doesn’t seem to have the same meaning that ‘now’ has for the rest of us! According to the link you provided, ‘now’ in your vocabulary means 4 years ago, 2010!

      By all means be indignant about what happened 4 years ago but don’t present it as an example of what is happening ‘now’.

      • Tracey 7.2.1

        then you must be seething about hides piece masquerading as fact, can you point us to your chastisement of hide in the herald comments?

      • Draco T Bastard 7.2.2

        We’re still running high unemployment. This is, as a matter of fact, part of National’s and Rodney Hide’s ideology to keep wages down and thus actually prevent what Parnell negotiated.

      • wekarawshark 7.2.3

        Stephanie’s use of ‘now’ is relative to 1840, which you would know if you had read her comment properly.

      • It was a comparison to 18bloody40. And don’t be a condescending dick.

    • Tracey 7.3

      he also conveniently omitted that parnell didnt stop with his own job, convinced new comers it was “custom “… which is not market forces related at all, upon threat of ducking in the water… and the unions got it made into law, regardless of market forces rather an acknowledgement of something foreign to hide, his party and the 17% of ACT MPs convicted of deception or fraud offences, compassion and the right thing to do.

      the casualisation of our workforce is putting some in our society back into a 12+ hour a day, six or seven days a week just to stay afloat… but then rodney finds that funny

  8. adam 8

    Working people and the political elects have nothing in common. The liberal toads always side with business – working folk need to realise 8 hours day, and a fairs day pay were won by the iron fist of labour, not the wet blankets of professional politicians.

  9. The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell 9

    So let’s celebrate Labour Day while we still have it.

    Yeah. They’re planning to take it away from you.

    • Tracey 9.1

      many people already dont get labour day off work, or had that escaped your cutting wits?

    • Draco T Bastard 9.2

      Yes, they are – that’s the whole point of the free-market ideology that our governments have engaged in over the last thirty years.

    • Well, there may still be some in the National Party who favour Jim Bolger’s approach to creating a ‘National Day’:

      After the major disruption at the Waitangi Day celebrations at Waitangi in 1995 there was a cry for a new National Day.

      A day on which all New Zealanders could share a sense of nationhood.

      The options ranged from renaming Waitangi Day to establishing a new day on which to celebrate all that is good in New Zealand.

      Following this year’s very successful ANZAC Day there were calls to make ANZAC Day our National Day.

      I don’t support that.

      I believe ANZAC Day has a very special place in our history and should remain as is.

      Neither do I support changing the name of Waitangi Day again.

      The Treaty of Waitangi is a most significant part of our country’s history and should be recognised by a special day.

      That said, I do support a separate “New Zealand Day” on which we could all celebrate who we are, our culture, our diversity and enjoy ourselves.

      Such a day could be the 6th September for the reasons I outlined earlier.

      The day New Zealand citizenship was established for the first time is a very significant day in our history.

      However I am inclined to the view expressed by former Governor-General Dame Catherine Tizard that a simpler approach might be to rename Labour Day, New Zealand Day.

      The day is already established in the calendar, the historic reasons for Labour Day are fading from memory.

      The prescription for an eight hour day was removed from legislation in 1991.

      Under this proposal we would retain Waitangi Day and ANZAC Day as at present and just replace Labour Day with New Zealand Day.

      The idea of abolishing Labour Day has been ‘live’ for National as has the view that Labour Day is “fading from memory” – largely for reasons associated with the reforms of the 1980s and 1990s.

      • The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell 9.3.1

        many people already dont get labour day off work

        Like me, for instance. I have been at it all day. It is a choice I have made. Lucky Parnell is not around to duck me in the harbour.

        • millsy 9.3.1.1

          Though, it seems that you seem to want to take away the right of people to choose *not* to work on Labour Day.

          Its rather like right wingers who belive in freedom to do anything as long as it is not join a trade union.

          • The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell 9.3.1.1.1

            Though, it seems that you seem to want to take away the right of people to choose *not* to work on Labour Day.

            No. I don’t.

        • Puddleglum 9.3.1.2

          I don’t think you meant to reply to me?

      • Clemgeopin 9.3.2

        Labour Day should remain as it is. It is a shame and an utter disgrace that the rights and working conditions of the workers have been slowly and steadily eroded over the years by different governments, primarily the right wing governments of National. Let us not let the RW nasties take away the day dedicated to the workers and the pioneers that helped bring in civilised fairer conditions of work into our society which is dominated by the rich and the powerful. Let us not allow them to obliterate the Labour day, unless we no longer care for the workers, their well being, their fair conditions of pay and work.

    • Tracey 10.1

      come on… four or five years of record profit… ANZ needs more… more… MORE!?! selfish employees need to learn gratitude for having a job…

  10. Clemgeopin 11

    Thoughts for the Labour day:

    8 hours for Work
    8 hours for sleep
    8 hours for self/family/friends.

    Now, that is fair, healthy and makes one’s short life on Earth worth it.

    I also think

    * That the lunch break of half an hour should be a paid break.
    * Travel time to and from work should have a payment for at least half an hour.
    * All workers should have a certain share/bonus in the profits over and above their normal pay.
    * Business that work more than 8 hours or 24/7, must have different shifts, employ more people and have restricted overtime safeguards.
    * Employers that say they can not manage, should leave, start a different business or become employees. The vacuum will soon get filled by other employers that can.

    * Uncontrolled free market fueled with unfairness and greed is the biggest real problem of this modern world in which the income and wealth gaps are fast increasing. That needs to change urgently with fair but strict controls enforced.

    The government, the employers, and all of us should realise that
    * We work to live and not live to work.
    * We are all fellow humans and should look after each other better.

  11. Tracey 12

    bank’s preferred measure – the cash profit – rose 11 per cent to $3.5 billion in the six months to the end of March, beating the consensus forecast from analysts of about $3.4 billion.

    That compares to a result of $3.18 billion in the same period a year earlier.
    ANZ posts another record profit

    ABC’s Peter Ryan analyses the ANZ’s first half-year profit of $3.5 billion.

    The statutory net profit jumped 15 per cent to $3.4 billion from $2.9 billion a year ago.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-05-01/anz-announces-half-year-result-of-34-billion/5422834

    ….

    from october 2013

    “…ANZ has posted its fourth straight year of record profits and raised its full-year payout to share holders.

    The third-biggest lender in the country recorded an 11 per cent increase in statutory profit to $6.3 billion….”

    • Clemgeopin 12.1

      Kiwi bank was started with the aim of serving us fairly and to restrict the greed of the other foreign owned excessive profit making banks. I wonder whether the Kiwi bank still has those aims and whether if it has succeeded in those aims….or has just become one of them.

  12. ma rohemo 13

    Labour laws mean that my son, who works 38 hours from Wednesday to Sunday, does not receive any compensation for today, Monday, being Labour Day.

    Monday and Tuesday are his “weekend”.
    “Mondayising” doesn’t work well for him.

    He misses many public holidays because of his roster. It would amount to hundreds of dollars a year even at his minimum wage.

    Where is the new Sam Parnell who can unite the power of the workers again? They need some basic rights.

    • Atiawa 13.1

      What union does he belong to?

      • ma rohemo 13.1.1

        Working at a food retailer in a small country town requires a certain amount of political passivity. Other employment is hard to find out here.

        I will suggest he joins an appropriate union to give a little added strength to the whole.

        Unions are not an automatic response for younger workers. The demonization of unions over the past 30 years has lead to a kind of “dark ages” where people have forgotten the good that unions brought to society in the past.

  13. I have spent a fair bit of Labour Day writing a post on my blog. (Linked on TS) it’s long and possibly a bit incoherent in parts because I got angry and anger disrupts my thought processes – which have a natural inclination to incoherence at the best of times.

    I get angry because I know that I am what I am today because of the social and economic advances fought for by generations of decent people who wanted nothing more than for their kids to inherit a fairer and more just world.

    Most of what working people have demanded in the past and want to protect now is extraordinary only for its modesty.

    And it’s those simple, modest demands standing up against the might and the demonstrable inhumanity, incompetence , wastefulness and dishonesty of unfettered capitalism which makes me both proud and angry.

    Freedom from preventable pain, from hunger, insecurity and fear; ensuring our kids have a full belly and a full and free mind – how unreasonable is that? How is that not achievable?

    • Puddleglum 14.1

      Very well put TeWhareWhero.

      There seems to be a willingness, today, to accept that a good proportion of New Zealand society can go to the wall if they’re not savvy enough to snatch sufficient resources from the competitive free-for-all we call an economy.

      In order for them to snatch that sufficiency we have increasingly fewer qualms over them working any number of hours at any rates of pay in any type of conditions and we increasingly back off from ‘forcing’ employers to act fairly through legislation and regulations on those matters.

      And the final nail in the coffin is that, then, when workers come home from long days spent in the service of others’ profits for minimal recompense we expect them to be exemplary partners, parents and citizens. That is, you’re expected to act like The Waltons without the advantage of your family’s circumstances being a scripted TV show.

      It’s just a baffling worldview to hold to. But that doesn’t seem to stop people aggressively asserting it.

  14. Draco T Bastard 15

    Two thirds of corporate profits since the 1980s have come from keeping wages down

    Leading economist Gavyn Davies has argued that low wage growth accounts for more than two thirds of corporate profits since the 1980s. As a substantial proportion of these profits have been used to pay dividends to shareholders, executives (who are directly paid in restricted shares) have directly increased their pay at the expense of their workers.

    Nope, not surprised. Same thing has happened in NZ since the implementation of Rogernomics.

    In the past, market economies have tended to erode unusually high profit margins through price competition which has restored real wages to their previous trends. That has always been seen as the natural order of things in a capitalist system.

    I really have NFI why economists keep coming out with this crap though. The ‘natural order’ of a capitalist system is to create poverty by shifting wealth into the hands of the few. The only reason why we had growing wages after WWII was because of the New Deal type policies in place across the developed world as Piketty showed. Now that those policies have been removed we’re going back to high poverty and high inequality of the preceding centuries.

    Capitalism causes the problems, it doesn’t and can’t fix them.

    H/T

    • While I sympathise with your sentiments, a key factor in wage growth after WW2 was massive increases in productivity. The employers were prepared to buy social peace because they had so much more surplus-value sloshing round.

      A key role was actually played by WW2. Capital became much more efficient thanks to the state organising it – funny how we never hear much about the magic of free markets during major wars; the capitalists are all for the state then – and workers became far more productive during the war.

      Productivity growth, of course, outstripped wage growth. One of the ironies was that the wealth of the rich in NZ grew faster than the wealth of the working class during the first Labour government.

      Phil

      • Draco T Bastard 15.1.1

        Growth in productivity is certainly a prerequisite for growth in wages in a capitalist system based around money but that doesn’t mean that growth in productivity automatically results in growth in wages. In fact, it normally doesn’t as Piketty showed.

    • Tracey 15.2

      anz is into its fourth year of record profits, yet its workers are being denied a decent pay rise… and it is laying workers off.
      …. productivity, gdp growth, its all smokescreens for making people work harder for less while profits soar

  15. In the late 1800s and early 1900s Labour Day was quite contested on the left. The more left elements tended to prefer may Day, while the more conservative and business-friendly elements of the labour movement tended to prefer Labour Day.

    For the early Labour Day controversies, see: http://rdln.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/labour-days-origins-in-new-zealand/

    Phil

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