Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Twenty-Five Years of Eight-Hour Propaganda

by the Sandwichman

"Why, of all possible immediate demands of the working class, was the eight-hour day chosen to be the special demand of labor's hosts on the from now on eventful May day?" Hubert Langerock asked in an article published in the May 1914 International Socialist Review.

Langerock, presumably a Marxist, had just spent six paragraphs dismissing what he referred to as the "simplism" and "bourgeois spirit" of Ira Steward's eight-hour theory. Without skipping a beat, he then delivered a panegyric to the demand for a reduction of hours as, "the only one which is not susceptible of a capitalistic interpretation." So which is it bourgeois simplism or unyielding revolutionary program?

It was not entirely on account of historical or national precedents but, because of all the demands which labor make under capitalism, a reduction of the hours of labor is the only one which is not susceptible of a capitalistic interpretation, the only one which unequivocally strikes at the root of the system. A reduction of the hours of labor embodies the experimental logic of facts and therefore it remains independent in its results from the words or formulas wherein it is expressed, it forces the most conservative craft-union man into an attitude which is revolutionary, whether he likes it or not.

No other demand of labor under capitalism is susceptible of the same interpretation, whether it be minimum-wage, or old-age pensions or unemployment benefits or feeding of school children or many more all such measures, unless backed up by a strong revolutionary feeling which makes them indisputable conquests of a forward-moving proletariat, become mere philanthropies of the bourgeois, surface measures of the master class. The bourgeois of today knows that he can recede from the orthodoxy of his old Manchesterianism without pecuniary loss, if he can prevent the birth of an efficient working class economic organization, which would cut the cost of his social emotionalism out of his profits.

Such was the reason for which eight hours became the specific demand of the marchers on May day.

1 comment:

Shag from Brookline said...

If the "working class" could generate "billable hours" as many of us have done in legal (and other professional) practices, then there might be 28 billable hours some days. The 8-hour day provides a life balance (family, health) to the masses, as well as perhaps to the economy by creating more jobs and more leisure time to consume that further enhances the economy. For the "working class," working beyond the 8-hour day may very well involve heavy lifting. But for many professionals, such would not involve heavy lifting, providing them with wealth accumulation that would save them from being part of the "working class." So we professionals need the "working class" to remain happy and healthy for our own sakes.