The Fight Over Working Hours

It’s June 25th, the 81st anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act. We can thank President Roosevelt and Labor Secretary Perkins for this greatest accomplishment of America’s centuries-long fight for shorter working hours.


Four Chicago leaders of the 8-hour day were hanged in 1887

A number of Americans were killed when we led the worldwide fight for the 8-hour day in 1886. The Chicago Haymarket Martyrs are the best known. Workers still make pilgrimages to their grave site.

YouTube has a darned good description of the fight as it took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. One of the good things about it is that it has a miner’s version of the “8-Hour Song” that was sung everywhere.

The Fight Was Set to Music

I don’t think it’s the best version. The words for the best version are below and they are worth studying for the pure art of it, not to mention the great historical importance. I can’t find this version on YouTube and so I made up a tune and sang it myself. It’s on my Gene Lantz Facebook Page.

We’ve Always Fought over Working Hours

One could say that the entire history of labor could be written as a fight over working hours. I’ve written about that before.

The Battle Continues

For many years, millions of workers have been exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act and could be worked pretty much endlessly with no extra pay. Among them are low-paid “salary” workers. The Obama Administration’s Department of Labor recently changed the rules so a lot more people could get overtime pay. Almost immediately, a coalition of bosses sprang up to oppose it. I wrote about that, too.

–Gene Lantz

Click here for more of these ideas

The 8-Hour Song

We mean to make things over,

We are tired of toil for naught

With but bare enough to live upon

And ne’er an hour for thought.

We want to feel the sunshine

And we want to smell the flow’rs

We are sure that God has willed it

And we mean to have eight hours;

We’re summoning our forces

From the shipyard, shop and mill

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest

Eight hours for what we will;

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest

Eight hours for what we will.


The beasts that graze the hillside,

And the birds that wander free,

In the life that God has meted,

Have a better life than we.

Oh, hands and hearts are weary,

And homes are heavy with dole;

If our life’s to be filled with drudg’ry,

What need of a human soul.

Shout, shout the lusty rally,

From shipyard, shop, and mill.

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest…

The voice of God within us

Is calling us to stand

Erect as is becoming

To the work of His right hand.

Should he, to whom the Maker

His glorious image gave,

The meanest of His creatures crouch,

A bread-and-butter slave?

Let the shout ring down the valleys

And echo from every hill.

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest…

Ye deem they’re feeble voices

That are raised in labor’s cause,

But bethink ye of the torrent,

And the wild tornado’s laws.

We say not toil’s uprising

In terror’s shape will come,

Yet the world were wise to listen

To the monetary hum.

Soon, soon the deep toned rally

Shall all the nations thrill.

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest…

From factories and workshops

In long and weary lines,

From all the sweltering forges,

And from out the sunless mines,

Wherever toil is wasting

The force of life to live

There the bent and battered armies

Come to claim what God doth give

And the blazon on the banner

Doth with hope the nation fill:

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest…

Hurrah, hurrah for labor,

For it shall arise in might

It has filled the world with plenty,

It shall fill the world with light

Hurrah, hurrah for labor,

It is mustering all its powers

And shall march along to victory

With the banner of Eight Hours.

Shout, shout the echoing rally

Till all the welkin thrill.

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest…

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