The Eight-Hour Law Agitation
THE agitation of the question of the hours of labor, which has long been going on, and has of late become very active, now seems to be fast proceeding to a crisis. Apparently, a severe struggle is upon us for the establishment of a rule limiting labor to eight hours a day. This result is to be sought either through the agency of law or by means of organized and widespread strikes. Formal notice has been served upon the industrial world that the contest in the United States is to be opened this year, to be continued unceasingly thereafter, not to close until the full “ demands of labor ” shall have been conceded, east and west, north and south, in the Old World as in the New.
Of course those who are directing this movement would much prefer to bring about their end by law rather than through strikes, not only because the former means of accomplishing their object would be less costly than a hand-tohand struggle with a powerful and resolute master class, but also because it would be more effectual and conclusive, more comprehensive and permanent. Laws may, indeed, be repealed after they have been enacted ; or they may remain upon the statute-book, uncanceled but inoperative. Of this, however, the labor champions are willing to take their chance, having confidence in their ability to prevent the repeal of such a law, should it once be enacted, and to secure at least a tolerable degree of efficiency in its execution through their own political influence. But they fully appreciate that whatever is gained by a strike may at any moment be lost by a lockout, whenever, in the changes of the market, the balance inclines to the side of the employing class ; and they will not be satisfied until they see their demands incorporated in the law of the land.
The strikes which, unless all signs fail, will soon be precipitated upon this community are to differ from the strikes of the past largely in this : that they will result from quarrels “ picked ” for the purpose with reference to a general effect; and will be carried on with not the less but the greater zeal because those who order the men out care little for the object immediately contested, except either to win a victory which shall help the cause elsewhere, or, if a defeat be inevitable, to arouse a deeper and wider feeling throughout the laboring population. For the purposes of the American Federation of Labor, a strike which shall fail in its direct object, but shall leave throughout the members of a trade a more resolute purpose to demand and to obtain a law general to all trades, will be better than would be a strike which, effecting its immediate purpose, should leave those who had taken part in it satisfied with the result in their own case, and indifferent to the further progress of the cause. The industrial contests of the coming season are to be, unlike most of those recorded in industrial history, directed straight upon the end of securing legislation. Freed from the pretentious and cumbrous organization of the Knights of Labor, the men who now deem themselves charged with promoting the interests of the working classes will wield powers greater than the Knights ever possessed, to initiate and conduct a series of strikes which shall essentially be nothing but a mighty agitation of the question of eight-hour legislation. It is, therefore, not of the strikes themselves, but of the proposed legislation, that I shall speak.
And, in the first place, let it be said that there is no fatal objection to the intervention of the state in the contract for labor. The traditional position of the economists in antagonism to such legislation, upon principle, is one which ought never to have been taken, and which cannot be maintained. The factory acts of England, which have become a model to the world, are in themselves a monument of prudent, far-seeing, truly wise statesmanship, which employs the powers of the state to defend its citizenship against deep and irreparable injuries, and truly helps the people to help themselves. Beginning at a time when the condition of the masses was wretched and deplorable beyond the power of language to describe, the factory legislation of England, judiciously combined with laws directed towards fostering the instincts of frugality, towards promoting the spread of intelligence, towards adjusting the burden of taxation to the strength and the weakness of the public body, has done a marvelous work in elevating the masses of the kingdom.
The objection of the economists to factory legislation was, I have said, not well taken. That objection was based on the theory that whatever interferes in any way with the freedom of contract and of action must, in the end and in the long run, injure the working classes. But what is freedom, so far as practical men are concerned with it ? Is it an empty right to do something which you cannot possibly do? Or is it a real power to do that one, out of many things, which you shall choose ? If one course gives a man a legal right to do anything, but results in his being so helpless and brings him into such miserable straits that he can, in fact, do but one thing, and that a thing which is most distressing ; while another course, although it may keep a man somewhat within bounds, actually conducts him to a position where he has a real choice among many and good things, which course affords the larger liberty ?
In the ease of a poor, ignorant, and debased population, the absence of factory acts, while it nominally leaves the operative free to go anywhere and do whatever he likes, really results in his staying hopelessly where he finds himself, and doing that which he particularly dislikes. He becomes the slave of the mill, bound fast to the great wheel which turns and turns below. Theoretically, he will not work in any factory where he is not well treated, where the sanitary arrangements are not at least tolerable, where machinery is not fenced to prevent death and mutilation, and where the hours of labor are not kept within the limits of health and strength. Certainly he will not do this if he be really free. Practically, however, in the absence of factory legislation, the operative will have no choice but to work as long as the great wheel turns, be that ten hours, as so generally now, or twelve, or fourteen, or sixteen, as in the days before the factory laws ; he will see his companions bruised and mangled by unguarded machinery ; he will all the time breathe air deeply laden with poisonous particles or deadly gases. Theoretically, the operative will, under unregulated freedom of movement and of contract, place himself with reference to the comfort of his family and the education of his children for a career happier than his own. Practically, he will, under the pressure of dire necessity, put his children into the mill as soon as he can get them there, even if it be, as in the old hideous days, at ten, at seven, or at five years of age ; and in the mill they will stay until they die. This is what will come to most laboring populations in the absence of factory laws. Are such populations really freer than those which are protected by law against gross abuse ?
The error of the English economists lay in not seeing that freedom of movement, freedom of action, freedom of contract, are practical matters ; and that industrial, like political, systems should be adapted to the needs and wants, the infirmities and evil liabilities, of the populations they are to serve. A crutch acts only by restraint, and to a sound man would be a hindrance and a burden. But is a cripple without a crutch a freer man than a cripple with a crutch ? In the case of the latter, does not the instrument correspond to an existing infirmity in such away that he has a much greater liberty and power of choice and of movement through its help ?
But while, thus, the principle of factory legislation is fully vindicated, it does not follow that any law which it may please a given number of persons to demand, or a legislature under popular impulse to enact, will be found beneficial. Restraint can at the best prevent waste. It cannot create force. The fact that a certain degree of interference with the contract for labor has done good, and only good, does not even raise a presumption that further interference will do any good at all. The result may be found altogether the other way. The presumption is always against the intervention of the law in private actions ; and that presumption can only be overcome, in any given case, by strong and direct evidence that it is needed to prevent some deep and irreparable injury.
What are the arguments in favor of a general eight-hour law ? 1
A familiar plea for this measure is that a larger amount of leisure time is the laborer’s rightful share in the great increase of productive power derived from the introduction of steam, the invention of machinery, and the discovery of a thousand useful arts and processes. These things have vastly enhanced, and are still every year enhancing, the productive capability of the community, enabling it to produce more in the same time, or as much in a shorter time. Let, then, the working class take out at least a part of the increased dividend which should come to them from this general gain in the form of a greater amount of leisure, a shorter day of labor. Even if this means that they are to forego some part of the enhanced wages which they might expect to realize from working for the old number of hours, with the more powerful auxiliaries and the better tools supplied by science and invention, it is still the right of the working classes to take their benefit in this form, if they elect. If additional time for social enjoyment, for amusement and recreation, for reading and study, for public duties, for politics, if you please, is worth more to them than an additional dividend of food and clothing, they should have it. What may be said in answer to this demand ?
In the first place, let me say that I have small sympathy with the views so frequently, and it seems to me brutally, expressed, that the working classes have no need for leisure, beyond the bare necessities of physical rest and repose, to get ready for the morrow’s work ; that they do not know what to do with vacant hours ; and that a shortening of the term of labor would simply mean idleness at the best, and would, in the great majority of cases, lead to an increase of dissipation and drunkenness. Is it our fellow - beings, our own countrymen, of whom we are speaking ? It seems to me that this talk about the inability of the working classes to make a good use of leisure, as a reason for not letting them have any; about the hours that might be gained from toil being surely spent in dissipation and riot; about keeping the laborer at work all day in order to keep him out of mischief, is the poorest sort of pessimistic nonsense. It is closely akin to what we used to hear about slavery being a humane and beneficent institution, of a highly educational character. It is akin to the reason given by despots to-day for not enlarging the liberties of the subject.
Work, hard work, and a great deal of it, is good for men. We are made for earnest, strenuous, sustained endeavor; and industry has its rewards, sanitary and moral as well as economic. The state of general repletion amid abundant leisure which Mr. Bellamy has depicted in his Looking Backward would be tedious to the last degree; and Dr. Holmes has well said that, in such a state, " intoxication and suicide” would take on the character of popular amusements. But we have no occasion to fear that anywhere, save only in the pages of a novel, shall we find the men of our race excused from any part of the labor that is for their good. The stern severity of nature within our zone, and the general hardness of the human lot, are not likely to be soon relaxed to any dangerous extent, through all the inventions and discoveries of which the human mind is capable.
But while we thus recognize hard work as the general lot of mankind, and rejoice in it, we may well desire that somewhat more, and much more, of leisure and of recreation should mingle with the daily life of our fellows than is now known to most of them. It is a pity, it is a great pity, that workingmen should not see more of their families by daylight; should not have more time for friendly converse or for distinct amusements ; should not have larger opportunities for social and public affairs. Doubtless many would always, and still more would at first, put the newly acquired leisure to uses that were lower than the best; were perhaps far from edifying ; were even, in instances, mischievous and injurious. But the larger part of this would be due to the fact, not that the time now granted was too great, but that the time previously granted had been too small. Experience of the bitter and the sweet, in this as in most human affairs, would eventually cure the greater part of the evil. Doubtless there would still remain many who, from vitiated tastes or tainted blood, would continue to put their enlarged freedom to a bad use. But such men, who might, it is conceded, become even worse men with more leisure, are not to furnish the rule for the great majority, who are decent, sober, and careful, fearing God and loving their families. And for such. I say, more of time released from the grasp of physical necessities is a thing to be desired.
If, at present, this boon cannot be obtained, let ns charge it to the general hardness of the human lot, to the severity with which nature presses all the time upon men ; but let us not, to keep the working classes quiet, pretend to believe that the object itself is not desirable. For one, I should be very sorry to think that the time would not come when eight hours would be held to constitute a fair day’s work in most trades and professions. Within the past forty years there has been a great reduction in the hours of labor throughout the most progressive nations, and the effect thus far has been plainly and largely for good. This might be carried much further, with results ever more and more, beneficial. Even without force of law or serious contests with employers, this is likely to go forward of itself, more or less rapidly ; changing the hours here from eleven to ten, and there from ten to nine, or possibly from nine to eight, the trades taken for the earliest reductions being precisely those within which, from the character of their membership, the added leisure will be most judiciously, soberly, and temperately enjoyed.
I have said that much has already been gained by the working classes, in this matter of the length of the workingday. There is an unfortunate tendency, on the part of those who especially affect to advocate the interests of the laborers, to misrepresent the facts of the case. They ask, Why, since the productive power of the community has increased so largely, has the laborer derived no benefit therefrom ? Let any one read the description which Mr. Hyndman, a socialist, gives of the state of English labor so late as 1842, in his work the Historical Basis of English Socialism, and he cannot fail to be impressed with the reduction which has taken place in the hours of labor since that time. Moreover, the workman has at least in all the trades covered by the factory and workshop acts, had the advantage of a vast improvement in the conditions under which his labor is performed, as to comfort, decency, health, and physical safety: which, by the way, constitute about the most expensive luxuries known to modern life.2 Still again, the workman has largely gained in actual money wages. So that, when it is asked why the workman has had no share in the great gain of productive power occurring within the half century, we answer, simply, that he has had a share in it, and no inconsiderable share. He works through fewer hours, in cleaner, safer, healthier factories, for higher wages.
This is not to say that more is not to come. The working classes could have had more already, under the conditions existing, had they understood their interests better, and followed them up more closely and actively.3 There is no reason to suppose that the possibilities of gain in this direction have been exhausted. As compared with any industrial state that ever has been known, the laborer of to-day has it in his power to do still better for himself, by greater care and pains, higher intelligence, stricter temperance. It is not unlikely, it is indeed most probable, that a part of the gain of the future will take the form of a further reduction of the hours of labor, in many, perhaps most, possibly all, trades and professions.
The second plea which is made for a universal eight-hour law drops the idea that the laborer is to accept a reduction in the length of the workingday as a part of his wages, — the idea that the leisure thus obtained is to be, as it were, one form of his consumption of wealth; he taking this instead of more food, or more clothing, or better shelter, or what not. I say, the new plea for the eighthour law drops the first notion, and bases itself upon the theory that, on the whole and in the long run, labor continued through only eight hours will yield as great a product, to be divided among the several classes of the community, as labor continued through the present somewhat varying term, from ten hours, say, to eleven or twelve.
Now, this claim is not, on its face, absurd. The rule of three cannot be applied to human labor without respect to conditions and circumstances innumerable. There is little doubt that all the successive reductions in the workingday which have thus far taken place among certain laboring populations have resulted in an immediate gain to production, while they have led to a still further increase of productive power in the generation following. It has probably never occurred that a reduction of working time has been all loss, since a somewhat increased activity, a somewhat enhanced energy, has characterized each part of the time remaining.
Let us take successive cases. Let it first be supposed that a community exists under the sway of a greedy, remorseless tyrant, who compels all the able-bodied members of the community to labor in his fields or shops twenty hours a day, leaving but four hours for sleep, rest, and domestic duties or enjoyments. Now let it be supposed that this ruler is succeeded by a son, to the full as selfish as himself, but more intelligent. Doubtless it would not be long before the new-comer discovered that it was for his own interest to reduce the hours of labor to eighteen ; and it would require no protracted experience of the new system to demonstrate that more wealth was actually produced in eighteen than had been in twenty hours. We may next suppose that, years later, the grandson of the first ruler is brought, by petition or by threatened rebellion, to consider the question whether he should reduce the number of hours from eighteen to fifteen. He would, at the outset, take this as a proposition to surrender one sixth of his product for the pleasure and comfort of his workingmen, — a proposition to which he would not graciously incline. But if he were as much wiser than his father as his father was wiser than the grandfather, he would soon come to see that this would not be so ; that, at the worst, something less than a one-sixth loss would be involved in the change, since, for the fifteen hours remaining, the laborers both could and doubtless would work with somewhat more, perhaps much more, spirit than they could possibly do when worn out in body and mind by the longer day of labor. Should this more enlightened ruler call to his counsels the best physiologists and physicians, his most sagacious ministers, superintendents, and foremen, he would without much difficulty be brought to believe that the proposed reduction of time would involve no loss whatever to production ; and trial would soon demonstrate to him and to the most skeptical of his advisers that protracting the hours of labor beyond the capabilities of the human frame had not been a source of gain, but of waste, — hideous, appalling waste.
Now, fifteen hours not unfairly represent the average day of work in European factories and workshops, at the time when the attention of legislators first began to be directed towards the condition of the less fortunate classes, and when those classes began first to stir in their own behalf. It is the general belief of intelligent and disinterested men that every successive reduction in the hours of labor, from that point until the limit of, say, eleven hours a day, in ordinary mechanical pursuits, was reached, effected, not a proportional loss of product, not a loss at all, but a positive gain, especially if not only the present productive power of the body of laborers is considered, but also the keeping up of the supply of labor in full numbers and in unimpaired strength, from generation to generation.
Personally, I should not hesitate to express the opinion that the further reduction from eleven hours to ten had been accomplished in some communities, like Massachusetts, without any appreciable loss to production, and with a clear social and physiological advantage to the community ; but here we enter upon disputed ground. In our own highly prosperous country, with a body of laborers generally intelligent and always active in maintaining their interests, armed, moreover, with the ballot, that interval between ten and eleven hours still remains debatable ground. In some States, eleven hours a day is the upward limit of factory labor; in others, lying side by side with these, the limit is ten hours. Both sides of the question as to the effect upon production of a ten-hour restriction are held by intelligent men. There is, however, enough of evidence in favor of the generally beneficial result to make it safe to say that, whenever the great body of laborers in any State now allowing eleven hours of factory labor are fully satisfied that the reduction to ten hours will, on the whole and in the long run, be for their own good, the step will probably be taken, with but little opposition or delay. The fact that there has not been in these States any great, sustained, resolute effort to secure a reduction of the hours of labor from eleven to ten shows clearly enough that the laborers themselves are not yet fully convinced that a reduction of the daily term of work would be for their own interests.
But the labor champions are not content to win this single step, all within the grounds of a reasonable difference of Opinion. Without waiting at this point to secure a general concurrence in a tenhour limit, and thereupon to collect evidence of the favorable result of such action, they now boldly propose to compel the industries of the country to take all at once the tremendous plunge to eight hours. And this change they propose to effect, so far as political agitation coupled with a series of well-advised and resolute strikes will enable them to do it, in application, not alone to the industries whose products, like those of the building trades generally, are only in a low degree, if at all, subject to competition with the corresponding products of other communities, but in application as well to industries whose products are in the highest degree subject both to interstate and to international competition ; in application not more to the industries where hand-tools are used, and where the personal energy and enthusiasm of the individual artisan determine his rate of movement, than to industries where machinery is extensively employed, and where the rate of the operative’s movement is determined wholly by the movement of such machinery; in application not to mechanical labor only, but to all labor, if I rightly understand the programme, whether employed in manufactures, in commerce, in transportation, in agriculture, or in personal services.
It is not improbable that there are some trades, especially the hand-tool trades, where the work is naturally severe, and in which the personal energy and enthusiasm of the individual laborer largely determine the rate of his movement, in respect to which the contention that a body of laborers could in the long run do as much in eight hours as in ten might be borne out by trial. Many disinterested and intelligent persons believe that, within these trades, a day of nine hours would be quite sufficient for the most effective labor; and in some cities that rule has already been established, either by mutual consent of masters and men, or as the result of severe and protracted contests. But that an eight-hour day, or even a nine-hour day, could be legally enforced within all occupations alike, or even only within the manufacturing and mechanical industries, without a loss, a considerable loss, to production, is not borne out by any facts that are known or by any reasons which have been advanced. The proposition as yet remains a mere assertion.
We now reach the third plea for a general eight-hour law, namely, that the effect would be to furnish employment to those who, under the existing system, cannot find a chance to work. This is, at present, the most popular and taking argument adduced in behalf of this measure. In order to give the argument greater effect, gross exaggeration is resorted to in stating the number habitually unemployed, which is sometimes placed as high as one fifth or one quarter of the laboring population. One writer speaks of the unemployed as “ the reserve army of industry.”
The fallacy of this argument lies in its assumption that the reason why a certain portion of the population cannot get work is because those who are employed work as long as they do, say ten hours a day. But what are these persons doing during the ninth and the tenth hour ? Each of them is producing goods which are to become a part of the means of paying other laborers for their ninth and tenth hours of work. To prevent any man from working up to the limits of his strength is not to increase, but to diminish, the amount which is available for keeping others at work.
Of course, if, by this plea for a general eight-hour law, it is merely intended to divide up a given amount of employment and a given sum of wages among a larger number of laborers, there is nothing to be said about it, except that it is a very good-natured proposal, and that its acceptance would indicate an unexpectedly large amount of benevolence on the part of the more fortunate members of the working class. But it is no such self-sacrificing measure which the labor champions propose to their followers. They mean to be understood as promising that the whole body shall be employed at undiminished wages.4 Now, such an expectation would be utterly irrational, except upon the assumption that laborers are to produce as much in eight hours as formerly in ten. But if they are to produce as much in eight hours as formerly in ten, then the old number of workers will in eight hours produce all the goods for which, according to the economic philosophy of their leaders and teachers, there is a demand.5 Why, then, should the employers take on any additional laborers ? If, on the other hand, less is to be produced in eight hours than in ten, then the additional laborers cannot be taken on to piece out the day’s work without a general lowering of wages. When a manufacturer employs a hundred men ten hours a day, it is because he wants a thousand hours of work, with which to produce a certain quantity of goods of a certain kind and quality, out of the sale of which he expects to make himself good for wages and materials, for the use of machinery and plant, with at least some small profit for himself. If he is to employ a hundred and twentyfive men for eight hours only, he still gets but a thousand hours of work, for which he can only pay the wages of a thousand hours.
How wide open is the pit into which those who urge this plea for an eighthour law have stumbled may be seen in the following extract from Mr. Gunton’s argument, seriously put forward by the American Federation of Labor as a campaign document. The italics are mine. “ The immediate effect of the adoption of an eight-hour workday would be to reduce the working time of over eight million adult laborers about two hours a day. This would withdraw about sixteen million hours’ labor a day from the market without discharging a single laborer. The industrial vacuum thus created would be equal to increasing the present demand for labor nearly twenty per cent.” Ought it to surprise us that, after such a demonstration, Mr. Gunton should easily make it out that the proposed measure would actually increase the wages of all laborers ? But why Mr. Gunton should be content with increasing the demand for labor by a paltry twenty per cent., when, by allowing laborers to work only one hour a day, he could increase “ the demand for labor” nine hundred per cent., it is hard to understand.
It is scarcely necessary to say that, although Mr. Gunton regards the substitution of ten million laborers workingeight hours a day for eight million laborers working ten hours a day as increasing the demand for labor by twenty per cent., there is, in fact, no increase whatever in the demand for labor. In either of Mr. Gunton’s two cases the demand is for eighty million hours’ labor a day; no more, no less.
Whatever may be said for an eighthour day of labor (and I have conceded that not a little may be urged in favor of a reduction of the workingday in many trades, at least), the plea derived from its imagined effect in setting the unemployed at work is utterly fallacious. The failure of employment for a certain portion of the population is not found at all in the fact that those who are employed work as long as they do. The longer and the harder a man works, within the limits of his strength, the more work he makes for others; since with every stroke he is producing that which is to become a part of the means of employing other labor. The reason why, in ordinary seasons, there are any persons unemployed is found partly in the immobility of the laboring population, in the want of general and technical education, in vicious and improvident habits, or in the accidents of life and the general hardship of the human lot. In even greater part, the reason is found in the fluctuations of production and trade, due to the world-wide extension of the division of labor, and the consequent extreme localization and intensification of industry. This is the price which mankind have to pay for the enormous advantages of the extension of the principle of the division of labor.
The evil is not to be cured, in whole or in part, by an eight-hour law. If it were true that only four fifths of the population are employed at ten hours, and if, by an eight-hour law, the other fifth were, as proposed, brought into the factories and workshops, every cause which now operates to produce fluctuations in industry and trade would continue with undiminished vigor; production would still gather itself into great waves, periods of highly excited activity being followed by intervals of deep depression; markets would still at times be glutted, and factories would have to be closed to allow the surplus stock to be cleared off. The spread of intelligence, the general and technical education of the people, the promotion of habits of frugality and temperance, and not eight-hour laws, are the proper means for removing the painful congestions of labor, and for reducing to a minimum the evils of that spasmodic and intermittent production of wealth which characterizes the industrial and commercial world of to-day, and which must continue to characterize the industrial and commercial world until mankind get ready to go back to hand-tools and to the petty neighborhood production of a former age.
I have spoken, I trust not unfairly, of the arguments urged for an eighthour law applicable to all industries. Let me now offer a few objections which present themselves to my mind.
In the first place, it is a matter of very grave question whether the reduction of the hours of labor, say from ten to eight, even if admitted to be highly desirable, constitutes one of those cases which justify interference by the state; whether, on the other hand, it is not a matter which should be left to debate and decision between employers and laborers : the former retaining their right to grant or refuse the demand ; the latter exercising their unquestioned right to refuse, individually or collectively, to work except upon terms agreeable to themselves.
I have expressed no grudging approval of the intervention of the state in bringing down the hours of labor from fifteen or thirteen to eleven or ten. The term of daily work which prevailed at the time when the greed of masters was utterly unrestrained by law meant the degradation and demoralization of the working classes, and produced a hideous mass of disease, vice, and crime, tending always to become congenital. Out of such a slough it is the right and duty of any government to raise its people, by main force, through the strong arm of the law. But when laboring populations have once been placed upon ground firm enough for them to gain a fair foothold and to get a leverage for their own exertions, it is, according to my political philosophy, much better that they should thereafter be left to make progress to successively higher planes through their own strength, skill, and courage. The state, clearly, should protect its citizens against deep and irremediable injury from forces which they may be powerless to resist; but such social and intellectual advantages as might accrue from a further reduction of the hours of labor will be most fully enjoyed and will be best improved when they shall have been won by the fortitude, patience, and persistent application of the laborers themselves.
Second. In addition to the foregoing, we are bound to take consideration of the rights of the minority in such a matter. If six hundred workingmen are willing and desirous to secure greater leisure at the sacrifice of some part of their wages, have they the moral right, by a mere majority of votes, to refuse to four hundred of their fellows the privilege of earning all the wages they can in a longer day of work, always within the limits of health ?
Third. Conceding for the moment the desirableness of a further reduction in the hours of labor, it seems to me a very grave mistake to undertake so long a step at once as that which is proposed, from ten hours, or more, to eight. If the final result is altogether desirable and is to come, it would be far better that it should be undertaken gradually: first, because there would thus be produced less disturbance to industry and trade; next, because the more moderate enterprise would have a better chance; and, again, because, in case of ultimate success, the working classes would, by that time and through those means, have become more fully educated to use the privilege of increasing leisure without abusing it.
Fourth. But would a uniform eighthour law, applicable to all trades and avocations, be a measure of ordinary justice as between workman and workman ? Conceding a considerable reduction in the hours of labor, can one rule ever be applied to all branches of industry ? Do not the several trades and avocations differ so widely among themselves, in the conditions under which they may be pursued, as to make any single rule the height of injustice? The term of work — that is, the number of hours a day — is but one of several factors which make up the sum that represents the muscular and nervous exhaustion involved in the pursuit of any avocation. Another factor is the intensity of exertion, which varies and must vary within very wide limits, according to the nature of the industry concerned. Again, the physiological conditions under which labor is conducted are of importance in determining the degree of nervous exhaustion. One industry must of necessity subject its operatives to intense heat or to intense cold. Still others are pursued in an almost stifling atmosphere. Others allow the access of dangerous particles or poisonous gases. On the other hand, there are industries pursued by hundreds of millions of our kind which furnish the most benignant influences, or at least require their laborers to submit to no conditions injurious to life or health.
Still again, the length of the working year varies greatly with different avocations. Some may be pursued steadily for twelve months, alike through summer and winter, seedtime and harvest; others have a working year of but eight or fewer months. Is it then possible, will it ever be possible, so to control the conditions under which labor is conducted as to make it compatible with political justice, or even with ordinary honesty as between man and man, to prescribe the same number of hours per day for all ?
Francis A. Walker.
- I shall refer to the arguments more frequently urged in the United States, in support of the demand for the immediate adoption of a general eight-hour law. In England, those who advocate a reduction of the hours of labor are much more conservative and reasonable than with us. Mr. Sidney Webb, one of the best and strongest of the English socialists, in his very able article on The Limitation of the Hours of Labor, in the Contemporary Review for December, 1889, says, “ It is not, of course, suggested that a universal and compulsory restriction of the hours of labor to eight per day could possibly be brought about by any one act of Parliament, or even merely by force of law at all.... It may be admitted that the hours of labor in any particular industry can only be adjusted by the negotiations of those concerned in that, industry, and that any uniform law is impossible.” Mr. George Gunton, more than any one else, seems to be put forward by the American eight-hour agitators as their champion.↩
- The cost of building and maintaining factories in accordance with the demands of modern public sentiment, and even with the requirements of law, including more room to each operative, fire escapes, artificial ventilation, the guarding of machinery, etc., is very great. For most of these thing’s, in private houses, men have to pay a heavy price.↩
- The present writer has for many years maintained the thesis that it is not only for the welfare of the community, but even for the advantage of the employing class themselves, that laborers should actively and urgently assert their own interests in the distribution of the product of industry.↩
- Mr. Gunton even promises increased wages.↩
- Mr. Gunton speaks repeatedly of “ the present normal consumption,” as if there were any reason why consumption is as large as it is, outside of the fact that production is as large as it is; as if consumption would not rapidly increase with increasing production, or contract with diminishing production.↩