Thursday, August 27, 2009

Beyond the f-word: Green on Black

by the Sandwichman

The Black-Connery Thirty-Hour Bill was strongly backed by the American Federation of Labor President, William Green.
"Would a Thirty-Hour Week Increase Employment?"

President Green urges the 30-hour week as a means to absorb the unemployed, and maintain industrial stability.

by William Green, President, American Federation of Labor

OUR problem of unemployment must be solved. No other question of national policy, whether political, social or economic, must be permitted to obscure this major issue until it is definitely disposed of. It can be disposed of not through half measures but only through courageous and decisive action, jointly undertaken and carried to conclusion by government, management and labor.

The 11 million unemployed do not represent the whole of the vast numbers who are affected by unemployment and its consequences. The failure of our industrial system to provide jobs for these 11 million throws on public relief some 18 million persons and the number is growing larger. Support of this army of those denied an opportunity to earn a living, cannot be continued indefinitely. While the moral degradation of the dole is sapping the sources of individual initiative and the enterprise of these millions of Americans, public credit is being drained by the unsupportable load of unproductive expenditures.

Our economic organism cannot function normally as long as such a substantial portion of the body remains totally paralyzed. The disease is too dangerous and too widespread to be treated merely with palliatives and anaesthetics. It must be cured.

The cure proposed by the American Federation of Labor is the adoption of a work-week which will absorb the unemployed, assuring wage-earners the maintenance of their incomes at previous levels. The proposal rests on two fundamental principles: First, that genuine recovery is impossible unless achieved through the normal channels of production; and, second, that industrial stability can be realized only through a broad stabilization of employment and the assurance of purchasing power adequate to initiate and sustain increased production of wealth.

Recovery and reform cannot be separated. Unbalance in our economic system is of such a degree that automatic recovery is impossible. Thirty hours is both a reform and a recovery proposal.

Founded upon these principles, the thirty-hour week program will achieve the following results:

  1. Through the shortening of hours to thirty per week, it will bring wage-earners now without work into our normal business organization;

  2. Through maintaining existing earnings, and placing effective purchasing power in the hands of those who have been deprived of incomes through unemployment, it will increase total purchasing power;

  3. By releasing a tremendous volume of pent-up consumers’ demand, it will stimulate industrial production in business activity;

  4. By giving unemployed workers jobs in our normal industries and by providing for wage maintenance, it will give the wage-earners that security which they now lack;

  5. By stimulating normal business activity, it will release the flow of credit in private business from the normal consumer, who constitutes the ultimate source of credit;

  6. It will provide material means for higher standards of living for the American people and make effective new and widespread demand for goods and services.

The failure on the part of private industries to achieve a substantial reduction in unemployment brings out the full import of the grave national emergency underlying the present situation. Our proposal is designed to meet this emergency situation.

The opposition to 30 hours follows historical precedent. People who oppose the 30-hour week on the claim that a reduction in hours of work will mean a great decrease in the volume of production, are repeating arguments which were made one hundred years ago against the establishment of the 10-hour day, and fifty years ago against the 8-hour day. These arguments were made and are now made on the assumption of a static society—an assumption which is false, as a glance at history will show. For more than a hundred years there has been a movement in this country for a shorter work week. The fight for the 30-hour week is the present phase of this century-old movement.

There are two ways in which to judge the social import of the thirty-hour week: First, its effect as a remedy for the greatest social evil we have ever known—the unemployment of millions of our population, and the inevitable degeneration of those millions from unemployed to unemployable if unemployment is prolonged. Second, its more positive effect as a means of giving the people of this country the kind of life to which any human being has a right.

Our immediate problem is to provide work. Desperate social illnesses must be met not by mere palliatives, but by correctives comparable to the need. The thirty-hour week will put millions of men and women to work; it will restore the self-respect of those men and women; it will give them confidence in themselves, in their future and in their country; it will fulfill the original purpose of the National Recovery Program.

This does not mean that the 30-hour week is merely a gigantic share-the-work movement. As such, it would lose its fundamental value as a recovery and a reform measure. Wages and hours of work must be fixed at the same time, one in relation to the other. The 30-hour week presupposes that earnings will be maintained at their present weekly, monthly, or yearly level, despite the reduction in hours. The workers must not be asked to continue to bear the burden of unemployment. Nor must the 30-hour bill be looked upon as only a relief measure. It seeks more equitable distribution of income. It is a plan to bring about basic readjustments in our social and economic order.

With the increased leisure which would come with the adoption of the 30-hour week, and with the increased purchasing power which would come from the maintenance of earnings, the workers would have time and money to function as consumers of the products of industry.

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