Hide on Labour Day

Rodney Hide writes in the HoS:

Tomorrow is Labour Day. Once again we will endure the annual claptrap that unions are great and won for us the eight-hour day. Without unions we would be working 24/7. It’s nonsense. …

On-board was shipping agent George Hunter, who asked Parnell to build him a store. Parnell agreed but on the condition that he work only eight hours a day. Hunter wasn’t happy. Eight-hour days weren’t the custom in London, but he had little choice: there were only three carpenters in Wellington.

Hence was born the eight-hour day. The practice caught on. For more than 100 years we have celebrated the eight-hour day as a victory for trade unionism. We know it as Labour Day which, on the fourth Monday of every October, is a public holiday.

We hear every year of the union movement’s long, hard struggle. It wasn’t easy winning the eight-hour day, we are repetitively told.

Without unions, greedy employers would have us working every hour, every day.

It’s a myth. The so-called victory had nothing to do with unions. It was simple supply and demand. The demand for skilled labour was high in the new and growing settlement. The supply was low.

Parnell could have negotiated more pay. But he chose fewer hours. That was his choice. That was the free market.

Every Labour Day we should be remembering how the eight-hour day was “won”: it was by two men negotiating, no third party involved. There were no unions. There was no labour legislation.


An excellent point. And today we thankfully have a country where generally people can negotiate their own hours. The unions tried to stop Saturday shopping, but failed.

I won’t be celebrating unions tomorrow. Quite the opposite. I will be working and celebrating the freedom that enables us to prosper and build a great country.

I will also be laughing. The union movement is so bereft of success that it has had to commandeer Parnell’s win through the free market. Such is the myth-making of the left. Even history isn’t safe.

Personally I think we should rename Labour Day.

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