Tim Gooden: ‘The 8-hour day shows there’s power in a union’

March 21, 2023
Workers hold banner that reads '8 hours labour, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours rest'
The eight-hour day was the result of a decades-long campaign by unionists. Inset: Geelong Trades and Labour Council President Tim Gooden. Photo: ACTU; Inset: Joseph Lichstein

Tonight we celebrate the 8-hour day. If you go up to Trades Hall, you will see over the door the words “labor omnia vincit” — which is Latin for “Together workers will overcome/conquer” or “Hard work will conquer all”.

You will see the photos of the old 8-hour day committees and their marches and parades: decades-long campaigns to leave the legacy of the 8-hour day.

You may wonder why did they do that? Years of campaigning, sacrificing and struggle for something seemingly impossible at the time. Why didn’t they just accept the boss’ lot: be quiet and just get on with it.

Workers wanted more. They too wanted to go and play sport, go to dances, spend time with their children, to travel and see places. All we take for granted today was not possible then, when you had to work 14–16 hour days 6–7 days a week.

As unionists, they knew that to win a common outcome they would have to fight for it and to do it together — undivided.

Nothing has ever been given to us without united struggle — not a single thing.

I had the good fortune to see Billy Bragg last weekend and, of course, he sang the famous song There is Power in a Union.

And I thought, is there? What do we do with that power today?

Is it spent on leaving a better world for the next generation?

Of course, all unions do the best they can for their members and furthering their immediate demands.

But do we come together as a union movement regularly at Geelong Trades Hall to discuss what we want and debate the best way forward to achieving that?

Do we build enough alliances with other unions, with our comrades in the Australian Labor Party, Greens, Socialists and the odd independent, the churches and sporting groups?

Together we can achieve so much more. We don’t have to agree on everything and we don’t. But we still have more in common with each other than we will ever have with big capitalists and the wealthy classes.

What do we want as a union movement today? Here are five things.

1. Peace

Tuesday March 14 will go down in history as a very sad day for workers, now and for the generations to follow, who will have to bear the cost of having nuclear submarines.

As unionists we have always opposed war and the march to war. 

We don’t want to send our workers — our kids — off to die trying to kill other workers and their kids. For what? Defending the economic dominance of American capitalism?

Two years ago, GTHC took a position against the then-Coalition government’s AUKUS agreement. We don’t believe it is in the workers’ interests.

We should continue to campaign against the drums of war and all the horrors that come with it. We should support Labor branches, unions and TLCs [Trades and Labour Councils] that have come out opposing the deal, like Wollongong TLC and Summer Hill Labor Branch in Anthony Albanese’s electorate.

2. Stop violence against women

There is other violence today, such as that perpetrated against women, girls and trans women: the Twitter “debate” about whether trans women are “real” women is not a fight we need to have.

We support all genders having the right to transition and stand against discrimination.

Meanwhile, we have to stop male-driven misogynistic violence against women. A sister is killed every week in this country and the justice system is failing them.

This is our struggle. For those here tonight who say I’ve heard it all before, let me say this: Brothers, we are losing and if we can’t win this, how can we win anything?

And there’s the nearly 500 First Nations brothers and sisters who have died in custody since the Black Deaths in Custody royal commission. None of its recommendations were ever implemented.

This country still has the highest rate, per capita, of First Nations people incarcerations than anywhere in the world. And their children are still being taken away. More cops and restrictions will not change this.

Lifting people out of poverty and getting justice is the only road forward.

3. Voice

This year — right now — we have the opportunity to take steps forward in the Voice referendum.

Unionists led the way in 1967 to recognise the First Nations as people. We can now lead in supporting a Voice.

But it is more than a chance to support the Statement from the Heart. It needs to be about Treaty and how our first peoples want to see their future.

It is a chance to show the whole world that we are no longer the colonial repressors of days gone by; that we no longer kill, dispossess and vilify First Nations people.

We want to walk hand-in-hand, we want to walk on Country with First Nations people leading the way — sharing their stories and being part of building a better country.

A YES vote can be a step forward in our campaign to achieve this.

4. Climate action

We want to move to a fossil fuel free world — to decarbonise and electrify as soon as possible. It will literally save our planet and ourselves.

But, in that process we want new, suitable, union jobs with conditions to be proud of. We want more apprentices — not just casuals, gig workers and backpackers.

Environmental Jobs Alliance Geelong is meeting again this month to help with this campaign.

5. Housing

The upcoming Commonwealth Games presents lots of opportunities. We can do better than the world soccer cup in Doha. We want to house the workers coming to build it, so the rents are not pushed up so high that we displace people in Geelong, raising an already high homeless rate and exacerbating mental health issues.

At the end of the games there should be less homelessness than today, not more.

We can ban silica stone from being used in any games village. Do this now during the tender process. Why should any worker die for a sporting event?

And more apprenticeships for our youth, especially for workers in the northern suburbs and young women. If they don’t benefit from such an endeavour, then what was the point?

All workers should be in a designed work group and know that they have rights, so they can go home safe at night with all their bodily and mental faculties intact.

That all workplaces have a HSR [health and safety representative], who is trained at Trades Hall or with their union. In the 21st century, surely a Commonwealth Games can have this much?

Trades Hall wants to build new training rooms so we can deliver the training free. We want the Trades Hall renovated so people with disabilities can get access to the building safely and go to the toilet with dignity.

We need your help to achieve this — to build a centre in Geelong we workers and unions can be proud to use for the next 100 years.

There is power in a union: as a movement this is all achievable and much more too.

If we don’t follow the lessons of the 8-hour day and work together, then we are just a bunch of individuals taking the bosses lot and teaching the next generation to do fuck all.

As unionists, together we have the power to bring about real everlasting change, making it better for the next generation of unionist to fight on.

To the 8-hour day and to those who fought for it, to Labour Day and those that have fallen in the struggle, and to the workers of the world, you have nothing to lose but your chains.

[Geelong Trades and Labour Council President Tim Gooden gave the following speech on March 17 to the Labour Day dinner in Geelong, attended by many unionists and local MP and defence minister Richard Marles.]

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