The first Labour Day celebrated the struggle for an eight-hour working day. Parades in the main centres were attended by several thousand trade union members and supporters.
New Zealand workers were among the first in the world to claim the right to an eight-hour day. As early as 1840 the carpenter Samuel Parnell famously won an eight-hour day in Wellington. The provision was soon extended to other centres, but it was a custom, not a legal entitlement, and only applied to some groups of workers.
Labour Day was first celebrated in New Zealand on 28 October 1890, the first anniversary of the formation of the Maritime Council, an organisation of transport and mining unions. Although the event was held during the dying days of an ill-fated trans-Tasman Maritime Strike, several thousand trade union members and supporters attended parades in the main centres; a highlight of the Wellington event was an appearance by the elderly Parnell himself. Government employees were given the day off to attend the parades.