While the 8 hour day processions lasted, they were a hugely significant part of Melbourne’s social fabric and one of the biggest events in the colony each year.
Victorian union members went all out to show off their wares - this armour, for example, was made by members of the United Tinsmiths & Sheet Metal Workers Society for wearing in the processions from the 1880s.
In 1884, The Argus reported that
The tinsmiths made a unique show, and attracted more attention than any other society out for the day. Three men in bright tin armour were a reminiscence of mediaeval times, but the armour, although it flashed gaily in the sunlight, would have been of little use to the Crusaders when opposed to Saracen spear heads. Two of the ‘knights of the soldering iron’ were mounted.
The armour was evidently in use for several decades, as another somewhat less charitable reporter went on to remark in 1921 that the tinsmiths
“were so tightly encased in their cuirasses that the very idea of getting out of them suggested the need for a tin-opener”.
The Tinsmiths’ armour display was certainly unique, but all Victorian unions made great efforts to show off their craft skills from the vantage of their procession float. The stonemasons were known to haul a huge block of stone on their lorry; the printers operatives once distributed pamphlets from a working printing press on their float; furniture makers displayed an entire drawingroom suite, and the displays from the Felt Hatters were said to strike horror in the hearts of small animals for miles.
Marcella Pearce's childhood memories of the 8 hour day processions of the 1930s give a glimpse of what a grand occasion they were, from humble beginnings in 1856 until they were replaced with the Moomba Parade in 1955.
“I believe the 8 Hours Day processions were extremely important during the late 1920s and through to the year the Second World War was declared, because of the terrible Depression which had wrought devastation throughout the world… People could enjoy, for no cost, the 8 Hours Day celebrations, which was truly the day for the workers of Victoria to show off their skills and their loyalty to each other. The Trades Hall was a focal point of great significance in their lives and threw a protective arm around those who fought for justice and food for their families. The solidarity of workers in those days was a binding force.”