Editorial: Weekend more than days off

By Doug Laing

Did you have a good weekend? What did you get up to? These are probably the most common questions asked in Hawke's Bay this day each year, the Tuesday after Anniversary Day and Labour Day.

And to which may well be added the question: Why?

For those who haven't searched Wikipedia to explain why we have this long weekend, Labour Day is said to originate with the pleadings of Samuel Parnell, a carpenter in Wellington, who in 1840 claimed a worker's right to an eight-hour day.

Murmurings had been around much longer, stemming from the Industrial Revolution in Britain, and how factories transformed working life, with a non-regulated employment environment enabling bosses to exploit workers to sometimes quite horrific extremes.

Long hours, 10-16 hours a day, six days a week or even more, were common, as was child labour, usually with inadequate remuneration. The boss got richer and the worker got poorer, or worse, got sicker and died.

In 1810, Robert Owen, a Welsh saddler's son, who became a factory owner and social reformer, having left school at 10, raised the demand of 10 hours as the legal limit to a working day.

He went further and by 1817 was trumpeting: Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.

Parnell's success in New Zealand was globally ground-breaking, even if limited in range. Some workers enjoyed a better-balanced lifestyle but others, including seamen, farm labourers and hotel, restaurant and shop staff, still worked longer hours.

It was 26 years later that an International Workingmen's Association convention in Geneva took-up the demand, declaring: "The legal limitation of the working day is a preliminary condition, without which all further attempts at improvements and emancipation of the working class must prove abortive."

The first Labour Day, a bit of a political event, was on October 28, 1890, the first anniversary of the establishment of the Maritime Council. Bigger centres, Napier included, celebrated with parades of floats, banners and huge crowds in the streets, along with picnics and sports.

The Liberals' Labour Day Act 1899 made a public holiday of the second Wednesday each October. A decade later, its celebration was reset to the fourth Monday.

Much of the rest of the world had to wait well into the 20th century before seeing the goal recognised.

The relevance of Hawke's Bay Anniversary Day is more obscure, particularly in Dannevirke, which instead observes Wellington's Anniversary each January. Not so long ago Waipukurau did the same, and Wairoa observed the Auckland anniversary, also in January.

The anniversary to which it refers marks the foundation of Hawke's Bay Province, a sub-national form of government, on November 1, 1858.

Provincial administrations were replaced 18 years later by more localised administrations, such as boroughs and counties, now cities and districts.

Anniversary days became better known for the A and P Show days or horse races which adopted them.

Well, did you have good weekend, a guy says to a mate in the supermarket on Labour Day. "Lost my job on Thursday," comes the reply.

He had been there three years, employed not by the company for whom he had worked but by some labour hire firm, on some sort of day-to-day contract. Twinged the back, went to the quack, back to work: no job. They didn't want any sore backs.

So how's everything else, okay? Daughter was doing well working at another supermarket, with a 40km round-trip each day. The 90 days were up ... Down the road.

Didn't ask any more. It seemed the only positive was the four days off to think about it.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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