8 hours labor, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours rest

Today is 1 May, the May Day or International Worker’s Day, celebrated since the 1886 Haymarket Massacre, Chicago.

Eight Hour Day Banner
Eight Hour Day Banner, Melbourne, 1856 – Wikipedia

So, it’s a good day to remember and repeat, once more, that old, very old demand: the eight-hour day. The slogan 8 hours labour, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours rest is atributted to Robert Owen, who could have enunciated it by 1817.

One century later, in 1930, the known economist John Maynard Keynes did a prediction that now makes us to smile bitterly: his grandchildren’s generation would have a 3 hours work day. Yes, three, it isn’t a typo. Keynes simply was thinking that the increased productivity would let this short working time. And indeed, theoretically it’s possible; nowadays in industrialised countries would be possible a good quality of life with a 3 hours work day. But what Keynes didn’t seem to keep in mind is that, in the capitalist system, increased productivity isn’t used to improve quality of life for proletarians (unless it’s forced by class warfare); it’s used to increase wealth of capitalists. Or perhaps Keynes knew that, but he thought that proletarians would continue fighting in the class warfare, and so capitalists would need to continue doing concessions. He was wrong.

mill children
Mill Children in Macon, 1909 – Wikipedia

It’s sad to check that today, 197 years later since Robert Owen’s slogan, most of workers in the world are as far from the 8 hours work day as workers in 1817 were (here a book for those who wish to know more about the matter: Working Time Around the World).

Standard working hours of countries worldwide are 40 to 44 hours per week, that’s true. But the reality is different, and it’s usual to work 10 or 12 hours each day (50 or 60 hours a week) despite what your contract says. Everyone knows that, except labor inspectors.

Also, the trend is in the opposite direction to what Keynes predicted. In the European Union was tried to change the law to apply a 60 hours week, in 2012 or 2013. It wasn’t sanctioned then, but the tendency is clear, towards the enlargement of working time. I wonder if my grandchildren’s generation will have to fight trying not to work 14 or 15 hours each day, as people did in XIX century.


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