Labour Day in New Zealand

Today was Labour Day in New Zealand. Time to par-tay.

It’s true. I was down at the supermarket this afternoon for my usual corn flakes and Ajax. The place was crawling with folk stocking up on par-tay balloons and trail mix. Whoop-whoop.

I just hope everyone par-tayed responsi-blay.

So did the New Zealand Herald. They ran a campaign against drink-driving. Its aim was to reduce the legal blood alcohol content limit from .08 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood to .05 mg.

I agree with this. It makes total sense on paper. But practically speaking, come on? Who can tell the difference between a drunk Kiwi driver and a sober one?

New Zealand’s traffic rules don’t make it easy. One rule says cars making a right-hand turn have the right-of-way over those making left-hand turns. This rule is responsible for 2,500 car crashes––and two or three fatalities––every year, according to the Department of Transportation.

Under current rules, the blue car will go first, then the orange, then the green, if we're lucky.

This is what actually happens.

See what following the rules gets you? Two or three deaths every year. That’s pretty bad. I can’t imagine how much worse it would be if there was any place interesting to drive to in New Zealand.

But Labour Day isn’t just another opportunity to complain about the hideous New Zealand drivers (sober or no). It’s also a time to celebrate the Kiwi worker (sober or no).

It all started in 1840 when Samuel Parnell––a carpenter resembling a contented goat––told his prospective employer that he only worked eight hours a day. The other 16 hours were divided evenly between sleep and chewing holes in the neighbors’ laundry.

Thanks in part to such chronic malingering, Parnell gets a lot of credit for the eight-hour working days that were established in different regions over the next 40 to 50 years.

Relevant Websites are fairly ambiguous about when the first legislation was passed establishing a national eight-hour work day. But the holiday being celebrated today was legally started in 1899, by which time there was already a de facto eight-hour working day for many trades and industries.

So to celebrate Labour Day in my own special manner, I’ve reached back in the history of management-labour relations to Captain James Cook’s three voyages to the South Pacific from the late 1760s to the late 1770s.

Capt. Cook visited New Zealand on all three voyages.

The first was sponsored and financed mainly by the Royal Society (of which Benjamin Franklin was a member at the time, if I recall correctly). The Society and the British Navy were dispatching scores of vessels around the world to observe the solar transit of Venus in order to precisely calculate the distance of the Earth to the Sun. One of Cook’s missions, then, was to make such observations from Tahiti.

But his primary goal was to seek out the southern continent that was supposed to exist if simply to offset the preponderance of land mass in the northern hemisphere.

Cook set sail from England in August, 1768 and the hilarity ensued. The comedy continued throughout all three of his voyages, right up to the hilarious moment when he was killed by Hawaiians after overstaying his welcome in February, 1779.

The list below comes from a thorough record of Cook’s ship-board discipline as published in Anne Salmond’s 2003 book The Trial of the Cannibal Dog: Captain Cook in the South Seas.

Happy Labour Day everybody!


  1. Lab Our day? Did you get a retriever? If the damned country can’t spell how do you expect them to drive? Corbflakes and Ajax? Intended to fill you up and clean you out at the same time? Cook set up a lovely travel agency now run by his great great grad daughter Sue Chef. His original ships still sail off the coast of Somalia picking up transients witgh large sailing vessels who are too rich for the likes of the Socialist Cooks.

  2. Sounds like New Zealand drivers took a lesson from California drivers. I can say that because I’m from California and I have seen that pile up you picture on several occasions!

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