The Hunter Valley’s Eight-Hour Movement and its Connection with the First Newcastle Trades and Labour Council, 1869–1886
The year 1869 can be considered the time from which there was a continuous “combined” union presence in the Hunter Valley. This can be said despite the examples of the various Lodges of Miners combining (to form a miners association in the period up to 1860); the short lived Eight Hour Committee of 1862; as well as a few other cases where craft unions temporarily got together for a common purpose. At the time the Coal Miners were the best organised union in the region. There were members of other unions throughout the Hunter Valley but these workers were mostly members of Sydney Branches and were concentrated in the building trades (plasterers, stonemasons, etc.). In 1869 the unions and individual unionists began to combine in their activities with the formation of an Eight Hour Committee in Maitland followed soon after in the same year by a similar committee in Newcastle. This first regional combination involving a number of unions in various eight hour committees was very craft based, and for a time, Sydney orientated and lacking in a regional identity. It took until 1883 before the Newcastle committee metamorphosed into an independent regional organisation and began holding its own eight hour demonstrations. This whole process was facilitated because the period was one of steady growth of population, industry, urban areas and transport infrastructure, in particular the railways.2 Generally, it was a period of labour shortage which created an atmosphere within which unions could organise and make gains on behalf of their members. It was no accident then that unionists from the building trades and railways were in the forefront of this early combined union activity.