May Day is celebrated on the first day of May in many countries. Also called International Workers’ Day, it honours workers’ struggle to achieve rights including the eight-hour working day, minimum wage levels, and safety standards.
In the early nineteenth century, oppressive and even dangerous working conditions were the norm for many people. In Australia, a campaign led by stonemasons (many of whom had been active in Britain’s Chartist movement) resulted in the introduction of the eight-hour workday in Victoria on 21 April 1856. The workers celebrated their victory in a march on Monday 12 May 1856 behind the banner ‘eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest’. The march became an annual event, and included picnics and sporting events.
American workers fighting for their own eight-hour day followed the Australians’ example. Their first May Day procession was on 1 May 1886. In Australia, striking shearers showed their solidarity with their own May Day march through the streets of Barcaldine in Queensland in 1891. In some parts Australia, May Day is now called Labour Day, and is celebrated on the second Monday in March.
The donor of this badge, Colin Hesse, writes:
My grandparents were working-class communists … and believed that
strong unions were a key means of improving their pay, conditions and
quality of life. Badges like this were produced each year for the
annual May Day March in Sydney, and they both went along to support
the idea that workers not only gained strength from the collective of
the union, but that workers across all workplaces had a common
In the words of the American women’s textile workers song, ‘They
marched for bread, but they marched for roses too’.