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The Shift to Eight Hours

The Shift To Eight Hours:

The roots of the eight-hour workday extend back to the late 18th century, when the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. Factories were booming and consumption was insatiable. Workers of all ages routinely worked 10 to 16-hour days in exchange for paltry pay. The parasitic upper class operated on the theory that longer hours at the factory led to greater outputs (later proven false by Henry Ford). The wealthy tried to keep workers dependent on their jobs to ensure that their factories had a desperate workforce readily at hand. Workers had no choice but to spend long days at the factory, considering the exceedingly low hourly wage that was offered.

In response to the hardships endured by the working class, British philanthropist Robert Owen advocated for a regulated eight-hour workday, making famous the slogan “Eight hours labour, Eighthours recreation, Eight hours rest.” In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions declared the eight-hour workday would become mandatory on May 1, 1886. However, the mandate was not adopted by the federal government and business as usual followed. That is, until the first-ever May Day parades were held in 1886. 

Workers all over the world walked off their jobs in support of an eight-hour workday. Four demonstrators in Chicago were killed by the police, stoking the fire for ongoing protests throughout the world for another 50 years. While some employers began adopting the eight-hour workday, it wasn’t until 1937 that the U.S. government actually enforced it.

Labor Day was instituted to celebrate this workers’ movement. However, so as not to fully elicit the memory of the Haymarket massacre in Chicago, President Grover Cleveland rescheduled the holiday for September 1st.

The eight-hour workday was beneficial during a time that the U.S. economy depended on factory production of goods. Now that our economy is driven more by technological and cultural industries rather than manufacturing, it is no surprise that alternative working schedules are beginning to blossom. Employers are embracing alternate models for the workday, including Results Only Work Environments, Flex-time and telecommuting.