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image icon Eight-hour day commemorative medallion, 1914

Eight-hour day commemorative medallion, 1914
Eight-hour day commemorative medallion, 1914
John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library


This is a 9-carat gold commemorative medallion, measuring 34 mm x 27 mm x 2 mm. It features a steam locomotive and the words 'FEDERATED AMALGAMATED GOVT. RAILWAY AND TRAMWAY SERVICE ASSOCIATION OF AUSTRALASIA' on one face and a railway lantern with 'FIGHT FOR 8 HOUR WORKING DAY' and other wording on the reverse. It is engraved 'ALEX MCCALLUM' and dates from 1914.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • This asset is an example of a medallion presented by a trade union to commemorate its work and achievements - this medallion was presented in 1914 to Alex McCallum (1877-1935) and is engraved with his name; it recognises his work as General Secretary of the Australian Labour Federation in Western Australia (1911-21) in the fight to achieve an eight-hour working day for railway and tramway employees.
  • This asset reveals that the union movement was actively involved in campaigning for an eight-hour working day in the early part of the 20th century - the edge of the medallion is inscribed: 'FOR ASSISTANCE RENDERED RE 8 HOURS PRINCIPLE ON RAILWAYS 1914'; labour movements in all the Australian states, as listed on the reverse of the medal, were involved in the fight.
  • This asset suggests the importance of the eight-hour day to labour organisations - the 'Eight Hours Movement' had its beginnings in the maxim of British socialist Robert Owen, who believed an ideal life was based on 'eight hours labour, eight hours rest and eight hours recreation'; Eight Hours Day (now known as Labour Day or May Day) was first celebrated in Australia in Victoria on 12 May 1856, with a public holiday and a procession organised by the Stonemason's Union; the Movement spread as workers across Australia organised themselves into unions and a general campaign began; the issue was important for employees, many of whom were expected to toil for unreasonably long hours in poor conditions.
  • This asset indicates that railway and tramway unionists working for the government in Australia achieved some success in gaining an eight-hour day in 1914 - however the general union campaign for a 40-hour week continued for many years, as only a minority of workers initially won these conditions; in particular, Chinese and Indigenous Australian workers, women and children generally worked longer hours for less pay; the building trades had achieved the eight-hour day years earlier (by 1858 in Sydney and Melbourne, and by 1891 in many other areas), but a 40-hour week was not universal in Australia until 1948.
  • This asset suggests something of the aims and aspirations of the union movement in the early decades of the 20th century in Australia - the reverse of the medallion states 'ONE INDUSTRY ONE ASSOCIATION', and shows a railway lantern with radiating beams enclosing all the states of Australia: 'NSW VICTORIA QUEENSLAND S. AUSTRALIA W. AUSTRALIA TASMANIA'.
  • This asset indicates that Alex McCallum was a significant member of the Western Australian labour movement - apart from his years as General Secretary of the WA Labour Federation, McCallum served as Labor Member of State Parliament for South Fremantle, Cabinet Minister in the Collier governments, Deputy Premier and then Chairman of the Agricultural Bank.