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31. Chapter XXXI The Eight-Hour Movement.

In the truly organized society labor must be pleasure, and nothing should be made by manual labor which is not worth making.


SO WROTE the Socialist poet, William Morris. The statement is true, and yet how few grasp the fact that it can be made a reality. Work should be for the nutrition of the social organism. Work should be both a pleasure and a healthful exercise. To think of the needless slavery, long hours, and life-shortening drudgery forced on the mass, and enforced idleness and the misery of helpless begging for toil on the part of others, is enough to make one doubt the sanity of humankind.

Over-production and under-consumption side by side! Useless, wanton waste—and starving men, women, and children! Millionaires' wives spending fortunes on dog and pig parties, freak dinners, and the like—whilst those who provide the wealth are in dire want within a few yards of them! The waste of wars in seeking new markets for the commercial profit-making robber! The sending of missionaries to teach the nigger to wear clothes— when he does not need them and is happier without them! The efforts of agents to induce the millions of Japan and China to wear woollen goods, so that a market may be found for surplus stock—and all the time the very makers of the goods are short of


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necessaries of life! Surely we are far from being civilised yet, and our profession of Christianity is a sham, a humbug, and hypocrisy.

Up till about a hundred and fifty years ago the production of wealth was a problem which loomed large in human life. There was some excuse, perhaps, for long hours then, but in this age the production of wealth has ceased to be a problem. The control of nature's forces in applied science and machinery has left us but the problem of organization and distribution. Invention is ever simplifying processes. Machines are now more simple, cost less, and require less fuel. Electrical energy produced by water power uses no fuel at all, and costs hardly anything for wear and tear. Every branch of knowledge is being drawn upon to find cheaper, quicker, and simpler methods of producing things “to sell.” As yet the idea of making them for use has not gripped the collective brain of man in any country.

As illustrating the rapidity of modern production, in Pennsylvania a number of sheep were shorn and the wool made into clothing in six hours four minutes. A steer was killed and its hide tanned and made into shoes in 24 hours. The steel frames of the huge sky-scraping buildings in the United States are put together by an electric riveter which does two rivets per minute. Wooden matches are made by a machine which splits 10,000,000 per day. A machine, attended by a boy, cuts out garments at the rate of 500 per day. A little girl looks after a machine which turns out fruit baskets at the rate of 12,000 per day, or 20 a minute. A


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pair of boots can be made in seventeen minutes, and a Baldwin railway engine in eight days. Weaving machinery is now so perfect that it runs all meal hours and for an hour and a-half after knock off time without any attendant.

Professor Hertzka, of Austria, in “The Laws of Social Evolution,” states that 5,000,000 able-bodied men can produce in two hours and twelve minutes per day, working 300 days a year, everything imaginable of luxury and necessity required by 22,000,000 people. His estimate is supported by other mathematicians. This means that every person could have all that a millionaire now enjoys by so little work that it would not be other than a pleasure. When we think of the possibilities within reach of a civilised people sufficiently intelligent to take advantage of what man's brain and study have brought within their ken, it puts one out of patience with the timidity of the workers in not seeking at least a huge shortening of the hours of labor.

There was a long struggle in Australia to secure eight hours as a day's work, and the average worker seems content to let it stand at that. It is, however, not by any means universal even now. The history of the movement has been well set forth in an interesting volume by Mr. W. E. Murphy, of Melbourne, so that I shall only give a brief account of it. The movement is essentially Australian. It is interesting to note that when the “Otago Association” for settlement in New Zealand was being organized in Scotland by the Rev. Thomas Burns in 1847, they had originally a clause fixing an


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eight-hour day. As this could not be legally enforced it was left out of the articles. It was tacitly understood, however, and the first strike as a consequence took place in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1848 in support of the eight hours.

The oldest Union in Australia is the Operative Stonemasons' Society, and at a meeting of the New South Wales section of that body held in the Parramatta Hotel, Sydney, on 22nd September, 1855, the following resolution was moved by Hugh Laundry, and seconded by Thomas Eaves: “That in the opinion of this Society eight hours should be the maximum of a day's labor.” This was carried unanimously, and in less than a fortnight eight hours became the accepted period of work, the only opposition coming from Tooth Bros. —just then building their brewery. The Operative Stonemasons of Melbourne moved in the matter early in 1856, and, after securing the extension of their own Society and the co-operation of some other trades, successfully launched the eight hours at a monster meeting held in the Queen's Theatre on 26th March, 1856, and it was agreed that it should come into force on 21st April following. Upon the latter date is held the Eight-Hour Demonstration, which is carried out annually. The first Monday in October is observed in the same way in Sydney. Each of the other States has its annual demonstration—Queensland on 1st March; Tasmania, 26th February; South Australia, 1st September; West Australia, 21st October, whilst New Zealand celebrates it on 28th October. The demonstrations held in city and country centres give evidence of


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the strength of the trade union movement, and the number of societies taking part indicates how far the eight hours have been conceded. Probably there are a total of 250 bodies taking part, all enjoying the boon.

In Victoria the eight hours rapidly extended, and in the building trades especially it was almost universally adopted. Taken generally, public opinion in Australia is in favor of an eight hours' limit. When, however, unionists try to get it conceded to them the employer, who, perhaps, at dinners and banquets speaks in favor of it, is slow to grant it to his workmen. It is only in a few cases that it has been made illegal to work more than eight hours per day or 48 per week. Victoria was the first to pass Factory legislation, and in the Act of 1873 no woman or girl was permitted to work more than eight hours per day. Later amendments limited the hours to forty-eight per week. In 1873 the Regulation of Mines and Machinery Act came into force, and it provided that no girl or woman and no boy under fourteen should be employed underground, and no male under eighteen should work more than forty-eight hours per week. This was amended in 1877 by fixing eight hours per day and forty-eight hours per week as the limit for all employed underground.

The effect of the legislation for factories and early closing passed in nearly all the States has been to shorten hours, but nevertheless proposals to make eight hours a legal limit of a day's work have failed to get through any of the legislatures. Owing to attempts being made to work miners more than


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eight hours at Bethanga and Bendigo, in Victoria, the A.M.A. secured an amendment allowing half-an-hour for meals, to be deducted, so that the legal working hours are now limited in the gold-mines of that State to seven and a-half per day. Where the temperature is high, six hours are now the limit. Practically miners do not work forty-eight hours per week including meal time, as in most districts they stop work at ten o'clock on Saturday night, the night shift starting at one o'clock on Monday morning.

Several of the building trades have gained a forty-four hours week, notably the Stonemasons and Painters. The demand for a Saturday half-holiday was so strong that in the large cities practically the only workers not now enjoying it are the retail shop employees. In Brisbane, however, shops are closed at one o'clock on Saturday, and in 1909 the Victorian legislature passed an Act legalising a similar boon for the shop-assistants of Melbourne. In the shearing sheds throughout the Commonwealth members of the A.W.U. work only half a day on Saturday.

Whilst there has as yet been no organized effort to secure the recognition of less than eight hours, the concession has been made in metalliferous mines. as in many cases the shift is six hours. For some years the A.M.A. has had a six hour shift in wet shafts and other difficult places. As a very striking proof of the fact that short hours are an advantage rather than a loss to the employer the recent experience in the coal and lignite mines of


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Austria may be quoted. By the Mining Act of 1884 the hours were fixed at twelve per day from bank to bank. By an amendment of the law which came into force in July, 1902, the hours were reduced to nine per day. This affected about seventy per cent. of the miners only. The Government obtained a return of the output of coal in all mines producing more than 1000 metric tons per year. The result showed that the output per man per shift for 1903 was over three per cent. greater than that for 1901, and for 1904 it was over six per cent. higher than that of 1901. In lignite mines the difference was over seven and nine per cent. respectively. This proves that the greedy employers have been losing money all these years by compelling the miners to work long hours.

Other tests of a similar kind have in most cases brought out a similar result, and prove that the employers and the workers are equally foolish in not agreeing on a very much shorter day than that now obtaining. In support of this a splendid illustration can be quoted from Victorian gold-mining experience. In the well-known Madame Berry Co.'s mine it was found necessary to sink the shaft deeper owing to the gutter having dipped away below the level of the drive from which the work had previously been carried on. There were over 200 men employed, and it meant that they would be out of employment until the shaft had been deepened. The mine was yielding a dividend of 2s. 6d. per share per month, and stoppage of the upper workings meant loss of that regular return. Hence the need for saving time.




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The directors wanted to let the job by contract, arguing that men would thus have an inducement to work harder. The mine manager (Mr. W. Maughan), who was not only a most capable manager, but a very fine man to work under, objected; and, as he always insisted on having his own way in the management, he was allowed to carry out his idea. It was the startling one of “two-hour shifts at top wages.” He picked his men, taking of course those of experience in shaft work, and put them on two-hour shifts at the rate usually paid for the full eight hours. I am not sure now that they did not have a bonus as well. The work went on with a rush day and night, one set of men relieving the other, and all going as hard as they could without a stop of any kind for the two hours out of the twenty-four which they had to work. Men can stand a heavy strain for two hours when they have the other twenty-two to rest before again tackling the work. The consequence was that the shaft was sunk to the required depth in one month less time than under the contract or longer hour wage-system used in other mines in exactly the same ground. Thus the shareholders secured their dividends and two hundred miners their wages one month earlier.

What is needed is an agitation for shorter hours. Eight are too many, but might be made the maximum, with no limit to the minimum. Where men or women are placed in charge of a machine— or, as is often the case in factories, between machines whose speed regulates the pace of the employees'


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work—the strain is too great for other than a very few hours per day. The effect on mentality is ruinous, and we can quite realise the truthfulness of the statement made by Hobson in his “Psychology of Jingoism” that “in every nation which has proceeded far in modern industrialism the prevalence of neurotic diseases attests the general nervous strain to which the population is subjected.” As machinery is made more perfect, so is its speed increased; and hence, though machines once driven by the foot of the person attending them, such as sewing machines, are now driven by electric or steam power, the work is not less hard, as the strain of constant watchfulness is severe. Also, where there was one needle before there are in some cases ten to-day. In drilling iron, one often can see sixteen drills driven by one machine, and all having to be watched by one pair of human eyes with loss of employment staring the operator in the face if anything goes wrong.

It is well known that physical toil, even though hard, will not kill so quickly as mental worry; but it seems to be forgotten that just as machines become more complex, more complete, and speedy, so is the strain on the person attending to them becoming at the same time a continuous mental worry. No one can last long at such work, and no one does. The old-fashioned employer or the old-style worker looking on for a few minutes contrasts it with the manual work of his young days, and speaks of it as not being work at all, but mere play. A little practical experience would change that. So far as the capitalist owners of the machines are concerned


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they care not, because they can fill the place of the killed or maimed without one moment's interference with the work. The masses are individually helpless and weak, so there is no hope except in collective action.

The greatest enemy of the worker is not the capitalist, but the ignorance and foolishness of the worker himself. Put him on piece-work, and, if not stopped by some power other than his own will, he will work longer hours than he would agree to do on wages. Even though he knows that where his earnings rise much above the recognised standard wage his piece-work rate will be reduced he takes the risk. Man has to be fenced in by coercion to do the right thing, hence, until the day of complete co-operation comes and production is only for use, we must look to legislation for the shortening of hours and other improvements essential to saving the Australian citizen from becoming a physical wreck under the pressure of his struggle for existence.

We should not aim at uniformity, but rather take each industry on its merits — or, speaking perhaps more correctly, its demerits. For instance, shearers work eight hours. They have several breaks for “smoke-oh,” and work 48 hours per week, so arranging the hours that they finish by noon on Saturday. They are away from home, and the work is only available for a short time each year, therefore, all concerned are anxious to get it over, except of course the shed laborer, who is on weekly wages. The shearer does not seem to be anxious to shorten his day, even though the work


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is such that he could not keep up the pace if it had to be done all the year round. In harvest work, also, there is generally believed to be a difficulty in fixing a limit. It is an occupation which is only temporary, lasting but a few weeks.

In reality, I doubt if there is any practical difficulty in the way of carrying on any industry under a system of eight hours, or even less. One of the most experienced dairymen I have met is a believer in short hours. He had to get up at three o'clock in the morning when a boy, and declared that he would never work his children as he was made to work. He does all the work of a large dairy under an eight-hour system, and all in time for his children to enjoy their evenings, and they are not called out of bed before a reasonable hour in the morning. If a limit of even considerably less than eight hours were placed on the day's work the industries of the country would still carry on, and would make a bigger profit than now, because there is the economic aspect of the question to be considered. It would mean more employment, and a bigger demand for all production.

The time is ripe for raising the demand for a further shortening of hours in any case, and the worker as well as the employer should be taught that the eight-hour day is but one milestone on the road to still better things, and that the movement is not something in which eight hours is the goal, but that it really means a movement which aims at such continuous shortening of the work-day as will find room for all those now squeezed out of employment by machinery. Man—every man—has


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the natural right to live. It is his duty to earn his own living, and no man has any right to deny him the opportunity to do so. If a machine is to do a man's work the man must be there to attend that machine, and so the question of hours is only one of how short must they become to absorb all those now idle.

The goal mankind is working towards is to make machinery do all the work of the world, and for Nature to supply human wants and luxuries by man simply pressing a button. But that idea has not yet been made to loom large in the minds of men. The wage-slave dreams of nothing but having to work for some other man; the capitalist dreams only of how to make more profit and get rich. When man gets time to think he will realise that all Nature's forces—all material things, such as land and machinery—should be the common property of all; and that Nature has ample stores and is ever ready to supply all human needs, leaving man to the development of his wonderful mentality and the enjoyment of all which high intellectuality brings to his ken.

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