19 Nov 2021
What’s in a name: An anniversary post courtesy of our Library Coordinator Sam
Today Hunter Workers celebrates our 152nd anniversary.
“If workmen were, in a body, to combine together, they could do as they liked with the masters,” declared George Galley at the inaugural meeting of what was to become the Newcastle Eight Hour Demonstration Committee on the 20th of November in 1869. Galley and J.G. Thornton, delegates from the Maitland Eight Hour Committee, had travelled to Newcastle to urge local unionists to lend their strength to the Eight Hour Movement, a labour initiative dedicated to securing 8 hours of work, 8 hours of leisure, and 8 hours of rest for all the working classes, the principle on which the modern working week is based.
The organisation, in its original incarnation, was affiliated with the Sydney Eight Hour Committee. By 1883, however, exponential growth in the local population and industries, as well as the strong union sentiments of our working classes, demanded an independent voice to represent of the specific struggles and needs of our region. On the 17th of September, the Newcastle Eight Hour Demonstration Committee registered as an autonomous legal entity and, on October 16, the first Eight Hour Demonstration was held locally.
As the union movement grew in strength in the Hunter, holding official meeting in pubs, as was the custom of the time, was no longer viable. It was evident Newcastle needed its own Trades Hall. The Eight Hour Committee were tasked with securing the land and funding. Newcastle’s first Trades Hall was opened on Hunter St in 1895. The building still stands today and is part of the TAFE complex. The staunch looking gentlemen pictured below were the last Trustees of the first Trades Hall and all long-term members of the Eight Hour Committee.
Over the years there were various attempts to form a Trade and Labour Council to advocate for the Hunter region. The first Newcastle Trade & Labour Council (1885-1887), the second Newcastle Trade & Labour Council (1904 – 1920), and the Newcastle Industrial Council (1917 – 1919), all struggled to survive in the face of immense social and economic instability. For many years, the Eight Hour Committee was the only unifying and stabilising force within the regional labour movement.
At a meeting in May 1926, a call was made for Eight Hour Committee to officially assume the full responsibilities of a trade and labour council. The Newcastle Trades Hall Council and Eight Hour Day Committee was officially registered in August 1926. The name was finally shortened to the Newcastle Trades Hall Councils on the 19th November, 1962.
In 2015, under the leadership of Daniel Wallace, the Newcastle Trades Hall Council rebranded as Hunter Workers to represent that we have, and always will, fight for all the working people of the Hunter region.
Noble, Rod (2008), Of human struggle & human gain: Peak labour organisation in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, 1969-2000.
Last Trustees of Trades Hall - Provided by Rod Noble, source unknown.
Original Trades Hall building – Credit: Giles Martin