Happy Labour Day! Labour Day celebrates the struggles and achievements of working people in Australia.
Notably, it marks the birth of the eight hour day movement, that fought for the right to eight hours work, eight hours rest and eight hours recreation. On Labour Day, we recognise and honour the contributions union members have made to the Canberra community.
In Canberra on Labour Day we also hold Union Picnic Day for members to celebrate the union-won public holiday with their family and friends.
This tradition started in 1939, on a new public holiday which combined several existing days off for public servants and construction workers. Around 2000 workers and their families held a dance at Albert Hall and a picnic at the Cotter River reserve
Workers celebrated the day with their families, participating in running races, carnival races and swimming in the river. Local business houses organised trophies, food and transport for the day. This annual event continued well into the 1960s before moving to the Acton rack track (ANU) and then EPIC showgrounds.
By 1995, crowds at Union Picnic Day had grown to over 10,000 people at EPIC, with families from all neighbourhoods, backgrounds and faiths coming together for the day.
Business lobbies in Canberra have many times tried to abolish the holiday, and each time failed. When John Howard used Federal laws to abolish Union Picnic day, Canberra unionists campaigned for and won Family and Community Day. This is now Reconciliation Day, about recognising the ongoing struggle for First Nations justice.
In 2017, UnionsACT restarted the Union Picnic on Labour Day and held a festival for union members. Last year over 6000 attendees came and honoured the time old tradition of carnival races and union tug of war.
This year, we have to celebrate Labour Day differently; together, but apart.
This Labour Day, as well as celebrating the victories of our movement, we celebrate the solidarity shown this year between working class people. We stand together with people who have lost their job in the pandemic and with frontline workers working around the clock to keep our community safe.
2020 has dramatically changed the way we all work, and exposed the insecure nature of work that is the reality for millions of workers in this country. As we hopefully begin to move beyond the pandemic, we need to ensure that in our rush to put it behind us, we don’t forget the lessons we have learnt about work this year. We must remember that it was workers, first and foremost, that got us through this crisis.
Hopefully, we’ll see you at the union picnic to celebrate together next year.