The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

What Happened to the Eight-Hour Work Day?

Nov 8, 2021

Starting in the 1860s, workers in this country began to fight in a big way for the eight-hour workday. In 1886, they launched a giant strike wave with the slogan “eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for what we will.” Finally in the 1930s, workers imposed the eight-hour day as the standard in many industries.

And yet today, few jobs on offer are the old “traditional” eight-hours, five days a week. Some have ten-hour shifts. Others have twelve. Many are six or even seven days a week.

Yes, this means workers will get overtime pay—which is just enough to keep up with what we used to earn, 30 or 40 years ago. Many workers are even happy to take overtime because we need the money.

Then there are all the part-time jobs that only offer five or six hours, and irregular schedules. Many workers have to take two or three of these jobs just to make ends meet.

The bosses today make every effort to try to make us think that we have to work all these hours in order to live. But with all the technology we have, workers should be able to live excellently on 20 hours a week—if we made what our labor is worth. We create more wealth in 20 hours today than workers used to create in 40 hours half a century ago. But accounting for the real cost of living, we earn much less.

In this society, the bosses push to make us work as much as possible, to wring as much profit out of us as they can. Workers have a different interest: to have time to enjoy our lives.