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May Day: Newcastle is a ‘Union Town’


The region will celebrate one of the oldest and richest union histories in Australia when hundreds of employees converge on Nobbys Beach Park this weekend.

And, Hunter Workers is encouraging everyone to join them for its annual May Day rally on Sunday.

The participants are scheduled to march from Newcastle Museum, from 10.30am, and continue to their destination where they’ll gather with families to commemorate the achievements of their colleagues and enjoy carnival rides, food and entertainment.

“Without unions in the Hunter, this region simply wouldn’t be what it is today,” Hunter Workers secretary Leigh Shears said.

“This May Day we remember and acknowledge those who fought hard for the working conditions we enjoy – and commend those who continue to do so.

“It’s also an opportunity for workers to have their voices heard and to consider the future.

“We’re under constant attack by the Morrison government, who has officially set butchering industrial relations laws on the agenda if re-elected.

“Instead of suppressing wages, they could be investing in workers by creating the legal and industrial environment that supports wage increases and secure jobs.”

South Maitland Unemployed Women’s Bureau practices banner carrying for May Day competition, [1930s]. Image by Ralph Snowball, from the Ralph Snowball Collection, courtesy of Special Collections, the University of Newcastle, Australia.

Sunday’s rally marks the 128th edition of May Day in the Hunter, beginning in 1894, and 91 years since it became an official annual event.

Historically known as Eight Hour Day, it honours the contributions of workers past and present.

“It’s also a day of protest and political demonstration, nationally and internationally, seeing workers voice their demands,” Mr Shears said.

“It originally began to celebrate the achievement of the eight-hour day for workers, a struggle that was first won in Melbourne 1856 and sparked a movement across the world.

“Newcastle and the Hunter boasts a rich history going back as far as the 1850s, which is reflected in several high-profile strike actions and the formation of the origins of Hunter Workers 152 years ago, the Eight Hour Committee.

“In 1869, that board was formed in Maitland and Newcastle.

“And, over many years it was central to the struggle for the 40-hour week, workplace health and safety, protecting the local environment, and fighting for a decent living wage in the region.”

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