Tag Archives: working hours

The Luddites took matters into their own hands when they saw that machines were destroying their jobs. They smashed the machines!


The argument in favor of new production equipment has always been that it brings down prices as it increases the total amount of wealth. The argument against it is that it doesn’t benefit the workers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps figures on productivity — the amount of wealth that one worker creates in an hour — and it’s incredible how much it has changed. They publish annual or quarterly changes in productivity, but one can use a spreadsheet to show the cumulative effect. From World War II to present, one worker makes more than four times as much as he/she did in an hour!

We didn’t get four times as much in wages and benefits. Instead, we suffered loss of jobs and diminishing power in the workplace as organized labor rolls dropped by two-thirds during the same period.

We have a fighting program against outsourcing, which also takes away our jobs, but American workers seem helpless against automation.

It Wasn’t Always That Way

The American labor movement used to have the correct answer to automation. When the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) was a fighting organization (1938-1947) they demanded “30 for 40 with no cut in pay” in virtually every contract fight. It means that they wanted to work thirty hours for forty hours’ pay. Not long after labor took its wrong turn in 1947, they gave up the demand for shorter hours. It’s hardly ever heard of today.

One thing that CIO militants did win was cost-of-living-adjustments (COLA) in contracts. As the government’s measure of inflation went up, union wages were adjusted upward. The formula used was never quite fair, but the general idea was very good. They used to call COLA an “escalator clause.”

Why No COPA?

Union negotiators could have demanded a cost-of-productivity-adjustment. Instead of higher wages, it should have given us shorter hours. If a person doubles their productivity, then, they should only have to work half as long! If we had done that successfully, we wouldn’t have lost a tremendous number of union jobs. Our unions would be just as big, and have just as much political clout, as they had in 1947!

Why didn’t they? Why don’t they now? That’s kind of a mystery.

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on the “Workers Beat” radio talk show, 89.3FM in Dallas and KNON.ORG everywhere. If you want to know what I really think, click here.


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…


The official report says only 38,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy in May. Economists say 200,000/month are needed. At the same time, the unemployment rate dropped because so many unemployed people answered “no” when they were asked if they were looking for a job. They call that “dropping out of the labor force.” The participation rate has been really low since 2008.

If they counted the people too discouraged to look for a job and the millions of people forced against their will to hold part-time jobs, the unemployment rate would be 10-11% and it would make a lot more sense.

Shorten the working hours

The obvious solution to the ravages of unemployment is to shorten working hours. One could write an entire history of the United States just on the issue of the fight to decrease the hours of work. The fight reached its zenith with the worldwide political strike of May 1, 1886, which focused on Chicago. They hanged the leaders of the 8 hour day movement.

Unions in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) demanded lower working hours throughout their history. “30 for 40 with no cut in pay” was their demand, and they kept it up until they disappeared into the AFL-CIO in 1955. Since then, unions have asked for more wages and more benefits, but not for shorter hours. I don’t know why.

Our big partial victory was the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which mandated that employers pay time-and-a-half when hourly workers put in more than 40 hours in a week. They have been fighting over that act since then. The current battle is because President Obama wants more workers to qualify for overtime pay, and the bosses, of course, don’t. They’d like to hang the President, too.

–Gene Lantz