50 Years Ago: Shorter Working Hours and Unemployed

The speeding up of the workman, the ever-growing intensity of the labour exacted from him, renders imperative a longer repose so that he may recuperate his working strength and maintain his maximum productivity. Hence flows the modern tendency toward shorter hours so that the profitableness of the worker to the capitalist may increase. It is the necessary and inevitable outcome of modern industrial conditions, even from the capitalist point of view, and is by no means a sign of victory over the ruling class. If the champions of the eight-hour day were to confine themselves to stating the truth about their pet reform there would be little need to quarrel with them, but when they claim as one of the virtues of the eight-hour day that it will abolish or greatly reduce unemployment, we join issue . . .

In the present instance, if the reduction of working class hours is to bring about more employment, it could only be by decreasing the output per man, and providing work by causing the employment of more men to produce the same amount as before. But would it have very much effect? So far as positive evidence goes, it is directly against any presumption of a lessening of the present output per man. Even past masters of the art of red herring trailing give themselves away at times. Thus Sidney Webb and Harold Cox in the book, The Eight Hours Day, state in considering the result of a general reduction of the hours of labour in all trades that

“The successive reductions of the hours of labour which this century has witnessed have been attended, after a very short interval, by a positive general increase in individual productivity. In many cases it has been found that the workers did more in ten hours than their predecessors in twelve. The effort to get more than a certain amount of work out of a man defeats itself.”

(From the SOCIALIST STANDARD, Seotember, 1908)

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