Monday, October 27, 2008

Economic and Social Importance of the Eight-Hour Movement

The adoption of an eight-hour system would tend to increase wages in two ways: first, by reducing enforced idleness; second, by creating new wants, and raising the standard of living.

The adoption of an eight-hour system would tend to increase wages in two ways: first, by reducing enforced idleness; second, by creating new wants, and raising the standard of living. The immediate effect of the general adoption of an eight-hour work day would be to reduce the working time of over eight million adult laborers about two hours a day. This would withdraw about sixteen million hours labor a day from the market without discharging a single laborer. The industrial vacuum thus created would be equal to increasing the present demand for labor nearly twenty per cent. In other words, without increasing either our home or foreign market, but simply to supply the present normal consumption, it would create employment for two million laborers, which is nearly equal to seventy per cent, of the total number of able-bodied paupers and unemployed laborers in America, England, France and Germany. In thus eliminating enforced idleness it would remove the first great Obstacle to industrial reform and social progress

Again, the employment of two million of new laborers would necessarily tend to increase the number of consumers, and thereby enlarge the market for commodities to that extent. That such a result would tend to increase wages is very clear. Although wages would not necessarily rise in the same proportion that enforced idleness is reduced, all the influences would be in that direction. It is a law in all nature that the power of primary forces increases directly as the opposing forces are reduced. Since enforced idleness is the most powerful obstruction to a rise of wages by removing the unemployed, the direct influence of the social forces which tend to promote the rise of real wages would be increased.

Manifestly, therefore, the immediate effect of the adoption of this measure would be to remove the greatest obstacle to industrial peace and progress, and prepare the way for increasing the natural influences which tend to enlarge the general consumption of wealth and raise wages.

The second effect, which would be more gradual, permanent and far-reaching in its nature than the first, would be the result of the increased leisure and social opportunity upon the social character and consumption of the masses. With the removal of enforced idleness, and its degrading influences, over eight million laborers would leave their work each day less exhausted, mentally and physically, and have two hours more leisure. This would mean so much positive opportunity for family life and for general social intercourse, and in a much fresher and more cheerful mood. With increased leisure and less exhaustion, the laborer will be continually forced or attracted into new and more complex social relations, which is the first step toward education and culture in the broadest and deepest sense of the term. In short, it means his gradual introduction into a new social environment, the unconscious influence of which would necessarily awaken and develop new tastes and desires for more social comforts. He would naturally begin to desire more wholesome and better appointed homes, more literature, entertainment, and a greater amount of general social intercourse, not to speak of the intellectual, moral and social improvement that would necessarily result from such conditions. The purely economic effect of this would be little short of revolution. In proportion to the frequency and extent with which the new desires were gratified, the development of which no power on earth could prevent, would they crystallize into urgent wants and necessities. The satisfaction of these would soon become an essential part of the standard of living demanded by the social character and habits of the people, and therefore would make a general rise of real wages inevitable. In fact, these are the only kind of influences which ever did, or ever can, permanently increase the general rate of real wages. This increased consumption and rise of wages means enlargement of the home market, and thereby making a greater concentration of capital and the use of wealth-cheapening machinery possible.

1 comment:

Robert said...

In today's world where we go to war over resources enlarging the market for commodities is an argument against something rather than for it. I support reduced work time in spite of the fact that the market for some commodities would be enlarged because I expect that the market for others, such as weapons materials would be reduced.