Dora B. Montefiore November 1911

The Eight Hours’ Demonstration in Sydney


Source: Justice, November 18, 1911, p.4;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.


I have just returned from witnessing the start of the Eight Hours Procession in Sydney, held on Monday, October 2; and as it was a record one even for this part of the world I will make a push to send off by this mail an impressionist account of Australian Labour’s demonstration for solidarity in the eight hours demand. The reader must picture to himself a dazzling blue sky, a relentless sun (even at 9.30 a.m.), climbing every moment higher in the heavens, to warm, and finally to scorch, a holiday crowd standing six deep in the streets and in an impenetrable mass round the Town Hall, the spot from which the procession was to start. It was essentially a family crowd, and hundreds of children were held aloft on the shoulders of their fathers so that they might catch glimpses of the craft symbols which have for so long carried forward the hopes and aspirations of the awakening workers. And, like all family crowds, it was good-humoured, forbearing, and stolid; the standard of living among those holiday-making was obviously higher than among the workers in England; but it was equally obvious that the rank and file were as unconscious as they are in England of the real power of Labour, and of the real mission of the workers.

This holiday crowd was, after all, being misled by its leaders, into celebrating a lie and a sham, for the eight hours day has not been gained out here any more than it has been gained at home; and as Mr. Duncan, the President of the Sydney Labour Council, said in his speech at the Eight Hours Banquet: “Unfortunately the eight hours system did not obtain everywhere; there were still men who worked as much as ten to fourteen hours a day, and the employees on dairy farms might be said to work the clock round.”

Therefore, as one watched the Labour politicians, the huge banners, the beribboned horses, and the triumphal cars swing slowly past the Town Hall and up Park Street, en route for Moore Park, one reflected that these multitudes of craft unions would have indubitably to blend in the melting-pot of Industrial Unionism before Labour could speak all over the world with one voice – and with that one voice demand socialised production and distribution for the use and benefit of all instead of, as now, for the profit of a few. It is true that Mr. Duncan had also said in his speech that “the objective of the movement was six hours a day, and then four hours a day” but he had added nothing as to any objective of the movement being the taking over by the people of the means of production and distribution; and, in proportion as he thus minimised the historic mission of the people to replace competition by co-operation, so he weakened the appeal and demand which this Labour-Day demonstration of the people was to make. But Labour leaders here, and in England, are out for power and office, and they think these can be made more assured by exploiting the revolutionary movement of the workers, and leading it into the blind alley of politics whilst here they further bemuse them with the idea that the eight hours day is a sort of accomplished fact. Therefore do the workers of Australia continue to follow their political shepherds beside the still waters of craft unionism instead of climbing triumphantly, as they might easily do, to the heights of Industrial Unionism and of Socialism.

But as an aesthetic spectacle, and, as a promise of the triumph of the spiritual – once this nightmare of providing for the material shall be once and for ever overthrown – the eight hours procession of October 2 was a noticeable writing on the wall. Seventy-three unions and twenty bands took part in the display, the prize for the best car being deservedly bestowed on the blacksmiths and farriers, whose car represented a forge, with smiths busily employed in making shoes. These ponies were carried on this car, and were shod at intervals by the industrious farriers. A very beautiful car was that of the wool and basil workers, the trophy on which took the form of a Grecian temple in pure white wool. Two young girls, with fine Grecian profiles, sat inside the temple, making fair promise of the beauty of race which might some day, under these Attic skies, people what are still the vast solitudes of the bush and wilderness. The federated millers had a car banked high with golden sheaves, over which presided a stately, ruddy-haired Ceres, with naming poppies and blue cornflowers in her warm, sun-kissed locks. Whoever designed this car was an artist either conscious or unconscious. The “fun of the fair” was represented by the Caretakers’ and Cleaners’ Union; the horses of their car being bestridden by knights of Labour, wearing tinpails decorated with feather brooms for helmets and holding in their hands as lances Turks’ head brooms. On their knees were the knee-pads worn by scrubbers; and on the car was a fine assortment of char-ladies and their kind looking militant and determined. Their motto borne aloft was “What do you think of women working for 41/2d an hour, and men working for 61/2d an hour?” My silent reply to this challenge was: “I am not at all surprised, as long as you are contented with a ‘Labour’ Government!” The Transport Workers’ display carried the appropriate motto: “Tell the boys to pull together.” That will be the motto, doubtless, in the future of Industrial Unionism. Scattered up and down the long procession, which took an hour to pass a given spot, were men carrying banners: “We want the Labour Daily” and a man in the crowd told me they had already about 60,000 towards making a start. The weekly Labour paper is “The Worker,” of 32 pages, and it is this organ which it is proposed, with the help of the A.W.U., the most powerful trade union in Australia, to turn into a “daily.” Fortunately there are forces alive in the A.W.U. which are more class conscious than those in most of the craft unions; and when the workers of Australia wake up to the fact that their present political leaders are in league with capitalism to bring out by means of assisted immigration men and women workers who will help to break the strikes which conciliation boards and arbitration boards fail to destroy, they will gradually swing over towards the Socialist interpretation, and, ceasing to protest and suffer for the gaining of a few extra shillings which are at once captured by the landlord, the middleman, and “ring,” they will ask and inevitably obtain the reward of their labour. But that will be another story.

DORA B. MONTEFIORE.