The Eight Hour Day

For most of us, working an eight-hour day is just the norm, but how did it develop? Australia, from 1860-1890, was experiencing a rapid growth in wealth that was transforming the middle class, yet the working classes were not reaping the benefits of their labour. Most were paid just enough to subsist; working long hours in poor conditions. One of the most fundamental roles of unions at this time was standardising working hours in order to obtain a family / work balance. Even though the eight-hour day was first achieved by the Operative Stonemason’s Society in 1856, it resonated within union movements through out the latter half of the 19th century. Newspapers and employers attacked the eight-hour day and felt it would inevitably fail, yet the eight-hour system only further spread through varying industries. Working less enabled people to enjoy family time and self-education, which was more often seen as the domain of the middle classes. Learning to read and write was becoming a reality for the working class as a result of the eight-hour day, and unions were providing a vast array of literary information to further the development of their members.[1]

Daily Herald (Adelaide, SA : 1910 - 1924), Thursday 29 April 1920, page 2

Daily Herald (Adelaide, SA : 1910 - 1924), Thursday 29 April 1920, page 2

 



[1]  Michael Cannon, Life in the Cities. (Victoria: Viking O’Neil, 1988), p.248.