What Happened to the 40-Hour Workweek?

Photo by Adam Rubock | CC BY 2.0

As 2017 winds down, it’s important to remember that this year marks the 200th anniversary for the call for a 40-hr workweek for laboring people.  The 8-hour day movement involves not only changes in the workweek, but the struggle over class power.  Turning points in this history of the workweek outline the reconfiguration of modern capitalism:

1817 – Robert Owen, a successful Welsh manufacturer, labor-rights activist and founder of the utopian community of New Harmony, believed in dividing the day into three, equal 8-hr parts — “Eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.”

1869 – At a time when workers put in 12 to 14 hrs a day of work, 6 days a week, Pres. Ulysses Grant issues a proclamation guaranteeing an 8-hr workday without a decrease in pay, but it only applied to government workers.

1926 — Henry Ford implemented a 5-day, 40-hr workweek for workers at his auto manufacturing company; he reminded his fellow robber-barons, “It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either lost time or a class privilege.”

1930 — As the Great Depression was raging, the cornflake magnate W. K. Kellogg introduced the 6-hour workday at his factory in Battle Creek, MI.

1940 — Congress amended the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act that limited the workweek to 44 hrs, or 8.8 hrs per day, to 40 hrs, 8 hrs per day.

1970 – Minneapolis Federal Reserve reports the average workweek was…

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