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Poster celebrating 100 years of Labour Day Parades, 1990 | by Archives New Zealand
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Poster celebrating 100 years of Labour Day Parades, 1990

Labour Day commemorates the struggle for an eight-hour working day, and has been celebrated in New Zealand every year since 28 October 1890. New Zealand workers were among the first to win the eight-hour day when, in 1840, the carpenter Samuel Parnell refused to work more than eight hours:


On the first ever Labour Day, several thousand trade union members and supporters attended parades in the main centres. Government employees were given the day off to attend the parades and many businesses closed for at least part of the day. It was a huge success. In Wellington, the highlight was an appearance by the elderly Parnell, who died just a few weeks later.


Early Labour Day parades drew huge crowds in places such as Palmerston North and Napier as well as in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Unionists and supporters marched behind colourful banners and ornate floats, and the parades were followed by popular picnics and sports events. These parades also had a political purpose. Although workers in some industries had long enjoyed an eight-hour day, it was not a legal entitlement. Other workers, including seamen, farm labourers, and hotel, restaurant and shop employees, still worked much longer hours. Many also endured unpleasant and sometimes dangerous working conditions. Unionists wanted the Liberals to pass legislation enforcing an eight-hour day for all workers, but the government was reluctant to antagonise the business community.


What the Liberals did do was make Labour Day a holiday. The Labour Day Act of 1899 created a statutory public holiday on the second Wednesday in October, first celebrated in 1900. The holiday was 'Mondayised' in 1910, and since then it has been held on the fourth Monday in October.


This poster by Dave Kent was created for the Trade Union History Project in 1990 to celebrate 100 years since the first Labour Day. That day was recreated as a march on 22 October 1990. The poster comes from a series of 1990 Commission posters:


Archives Reference: ABLG W3781 Box 13/ 91


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Caption with thanks to NZHistory:


Material from Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga

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Taken on October 5, 2015