Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hours of Labour 8

by Sydney J. Chapman (translated and condensed by the Sandwichman)

We are assuming throughout, it must be remembered, that the wage will always be the worker's marginal worth – that is, what would be lost if he were dismissed – and that he knows it. Actually, of course, there is frequently an appreciable discrepancy between the marginal worth of labor and its wage, and the usual connection between them has not been commonly understood by the wage-earning classes. It would seem from the records of labor movements as if the worker's fear – based as much on ignorance as on distrust – lest the longer day should mean no more pay, though the weekly product would be greater, has protected him against the injurious consequences of short-sightedness; but I am inclined to think that the dominant force in these labor movements has consisted in ideals of life, formed half instinctively, which are unconnected with views, fallacious or otherwise, concerning the mechanics of distribution. Bad arguments have been used to justify good ends. To these ideals of life I shall refer again.

Actually, the actions of both employers and employed, in so far as they are governed by self-regarding motives, will compromise between immediate impulses and long-sighted calculations. Long-period results that are not very remote will usually be factored in, and employers as well as workers may aim at them, because the former may think the length of time a worker usually stays with one firm sufficient to justify a slight present sacrifice made with the object of securing improvement in the worker's efficiency.

The above analysis explains not only disagreements between employers and workers as regards the normal working day, but also the friction that is constantly generated in the matter of "overtime." Without the admission of overtime, heavy losses might be experienced by an industry in view of the inelasticity of its production and fluctuations in the market in which it sold; but, on the other hand, overtime once admitted sometimes tends to be worked out of proportion to the special need for it, and workers are apt to suspect that it is being used unfairly to extend the normal day.


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