A short history of shorter working hours

A short history of shorter working hours

by William McGaughey

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A short history of shorter working hours by William McGaughey

An important but neglected history has been the history of reduced working hours. Some say this history started when God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. It certainly involves the Jewish sabbath and the Christian day of rest on Sundays.

The modern history of work hours begins with the extremely long hours scheduled in mines and mills in the early days of the Industrial Revolutions. Workers organized to gain a 10-hour day and then an 8-hour day. A general strike was held on May 1, 1886, in the United States to seek the 8-hour day. This is the origin of the May Day labor holiday that is celebrated around the world.

In the 20th Century, strikes continued for an 8-hour day in the United States. There was also, however, a move from 6-day weeks to 5-day weeks. Henry Ford put his automobile factories on a 5-day, 40-hour weekly schedule in 1926.

When the Great Depression hit, the U.S. Senate passed bill that would have created a 5-day, 30-hour week but it was quietly opposed by the incoming Roosevelt administration. Hours reductions were, however, part of the NRA codes. In 1938, the Roosevelt administration and Congress enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act which legally established the 40-hour workweek.

It was expected that work hours would decline further after World War II. Some reduction in hours took place but mostly progress stalled. Organized labor, to its detriment, gradually abandoned its traditional goal of winning shorter hours. In recent years, however, a small group has emerged, comprising both union members and those outside the labor movement, which sees shorter work hours as a way to increase human happiness and reduce environmental degradation.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940013106215
Publisher: Thistlerose Publications
Publication date: 07/26/2011
Series: Shorter work time , #3
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 33 KB

About the Author

William McGaughey, formerly an accountant who read Monthly Labor Review and other such publications, was author of the book, "A Shorter Workweek in the 1980s', whose economic analysis of work-time changes inspired a new generation of shorter-workweek enthusiasts. He was also coauthor with Eugene McCarthy of the 1989 book, "Nonfinancial Economics: The Case for Shorter Hours of Work". More recently, he created and maintained the multilingual website, http://www.ShorterWorkWeek.com. He is an active participant in the Shorter Work Time discussion group.

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