Facing unjust laws that limited the right to organize, working people hit upon the idea of forming a political party to advance their interests. The resulting relationship has not always been easy and close, but workers in union continue to campaign strategically for electoral advantage.
Before the Labor Party was even conceived of though, there had been attempts to send working class men to state parliament, albeit with limited success. The first of these, Charles Jardine Don, whose bust is on display in this case, was elected to the seat of Collingwood in 1859.
Don, a Scottish Chartist who came to Australia in search of gold, later became a stonemason and key figure in the 8 hours movement in Victoria. Upon winning election, he proudly claimed to be the first working class man represented in 'any legislature within the British Empire'.
Needing to earn a living in the days before Members of Parliament were paid a wage, Charles Don could claim the curious distinction of having two entirely different careers at Parliament House at the same time. During the day, he plied his trade as a stonemason on the unfinished building itself, before stepping inside of an evening to represent the early labour movement as a legislator.
The Labour Party had several changes of name in the 1890s – called the Progressive Political League, United Labor and Liberal Party of Victoria, and eventually the Political Labor Council before becoming the Victorian branch of the ALP. he temporary location of the first Australian Parliament at the Royal Exhibition building, not far from here, made Trades Hall a natural location for the formation and base for the Federal Labor Party.
Trades Hall was also the natural venue for a victory party at the election of Australia’s – and the world’s – first Labor government in 1904, and remained the headquarters of the party’s Victorian branch right up until 1972, when it relocated to larger offices just a block away.