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Dates for assembly

Since the Industrial Revolution, many traditional rustic May Day festivities have given way to celebrations of urban labour.

Outline script for assembly leaders

How many hours a day do you work? What is the longest period that you work without a break? Imagine starting work at three o'clock in the morning and having no time off until 10 o'clock at night. That was how long some workers once had to work - and they were six-year-old children.

Now there are laws which mean that nobody can be forced to work for more than 48 hours a week. Two hundred years ago, there were no such laws. At that time, many people left the countryside to find work in the factories that were being built in the new cities such as Birmingham and Manchester.

The owners of those factories wanted to make as much profit as possible so, for example, workers in the Lancashire cotton mills had to work 14 hours a day, with no holidays or sick pay. Children as young as four worked down coal mines because their parents' wages were too low to live on.

In 1833, a mill-owner called Robert Owen (pictured above) decided things could be different. He imagined a future without poverty or injustice and decided this new age should begin on May 1 which he called a "Festival of Labour". Despite opposition from other factory owners, trades unions were formed (one by Robert Owen) and their leaders began to agitate for a shorter working day. In 1889, workers' leaders from all over Europe met in Paris, and decided "May Day" should be a day of demonstrations to cut the working day to eight hours.

Since then, May 1 has been marked as Labour Day in many countries as a time for expressing pride in work, solidarity between workers and hope for the future. In 1978, the first Monday in May became a Bank Holiday in England and Wales (as it already was in Scotland).

Follow up

Create an exhibition of items that symbolise the different kinds of work done by pupils' parents - or by pupils themselves in and out of school.

Design a trade union-type banner for a modern trade or profession.

List the different trades that are mentioned in St Mark's Gospel.

Present working time regulations can be found at or by searching "working hours" on Google.

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