News and Highlights: From the Vault (May 2006)
May Day! The Eight-Hour Day...
May Day! The Eight-Hour Day...
On May 1, 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions demanded an eight-hour workday in the United States, to come in effect as of May 1, 1886. This resulted in the general strike and the U.S. Haymarket Riot of 1886, but eventually also in the official sanction of the eight-hour workday.
The struggle for the eight-hour day in the United States began as early as 1791, when a group of Philadelphia carpenters went on strike in favor of the ten-hour day. The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America were active participants in the fight for improved working hours.
Perhaps the greatest treasure of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBCJA) archives is this banner, created in 1835 for the Journeyman House Carpenters' Association of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The banner is historically important not only to the UBCJA, but also to the entire American labor movement. Experts on the banner's age and significance report that it is one of the oldest American labor banners still in existence.
One side of the banner depicts journeymen and apprentice carpenters at work. An apprentice is tapping a mechanic on the shoulder and pointing to a neighboring steeple clock that shows the time to be six o'clock. In the foreground is inscribed: "Six to Six." Just as the carpenters of later decades fought for the eight-hour day, the generation of the 1830s had battled for the ten-hour workday with two hours allowed for meals. Forced to work thirteen or more hours during summer, the "Six to Six" motto was the protest of carpenters and workers in many other trades against a sunup to sundown work day in the summer and a piece work system during the short daylight hours of the winter months. Painted underneath is a ribbon that reads "JOURNEYMAN HOUSE CARPENTERS ASSOCIATION INSTITd. JUNE, 1835"
On the reverse side of the banner is a female figure who represents Columbia, a symbol of the United States, and who holds in her hands the nation's flag. She is flanked by three Native Americans, a male and two females, to whom she is pointing out the motto of the House Carpenters' Association: "UNION AND INTELLIGENCE - THE PATH TO INDEPENDENCE." When the University of Maryland received the banner in 1999, this side was not visible because the banner was encased in a frame.
Journeyman House Carpenters' Banner (1835). J. A. Van Schoick (Artist), Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries
United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America delegates at their Detroit fifth general convention, August 1888. They carried the Journeyman House Carpenters' banner at this event. The banner was used once more in public - at a labor parade in 1889 - before the UBCJ placed it in a glass-covered frame for safekeeping at their national headquarters. The banner was restored in the late 1990s and currently resides in the University of Maryland, Special Collections.
See previous From the Vault entries.