“Eight hours of work, eight hours of rest and eight hours to do what we think best”
Eight-Hour Day Slogan (circa 1890)
In the 19th century, the workweek was 60 to 72 hours Monday through Saturday with Sunday off. The fight for the eight-hour day has been a rallying call for the working class since the early day of the union movement. An American Federation of Labor pamphlet in 1899 stated: “Rest cultivates, drudgery brutalizes.” While a shorter workday was viewed as a cure for unemployment, low wages and a host of social ills, it also meant more leisure time to enjoy life. It meant more time for one’s family. Shorter hours would also provide workers time for personal development to pursue their talents in art, music and other endeavors.
After a century of struggle, the eight-hour day and 40 hour week was generally realized for workers in 1938 with the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This was one of the greatest achievements of the labor movement. Even though the FLSA that provided 40 hour week and overtime pay is still intact today, the intent of the law has been seriously undermined over the last 30 years. The loss of millions of manufacturing jobs to low wage nations as a result of free trade, the aggressive campaign against unions and the ever increasing reliance on part-time and temporary employment have undermined wages in the U.S. The declining standard of living of the working families has forced many workers to take second and even third jobs to make ends meet. In effect, many wage earners are working more than the standard eight-hour day, 40 hour week.