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Eight-hour day


Eight-hour day

The eight-hour day movement or 40-hour week movement, also known as the short-time movement, had its origins in the Industrial Revolution in Britain, where industrial production in large factories transformed working life. The use of child labour was common. The working day could range from 10 to 16 hours for six days a week.[1][2]

trade unions.

Karl Marx saw it as of vital importance to the workers health, saying in Das Kapital: "By extending the working day, therefore, capitalist production...not only produces a deterioration of human labour power by robbing it of its normal moral and physical conditions of development and activity, but also produces the premature exhaustion and death of this labour power itself."[3][4]

The International Workingmen's Association took up the demand for an eight-hour day at its convention in Geneva in August 1866, declaring The legal limitation of the working day is a preliminary condition without which all further attempts at improvements and emancipation of the working class must prove abortive, and The Congress proposes eight hours as the legal limit of the working day.

Although there were initial successes in achieving an eight-hour day in New Zealand and by the Australian labour movement for skilled workers in the 1840s and 1850s, most employed people had to wait to the early and mid twentieth century for the condition to be widely achieved through the industrialized world through legislative action.

The eight-hour day movement forms part of the early history for the celebration of Labour Day, and May Day in many nations and cultures.


  • Asia 1
    • Iran 1.1
  • Europe 2
    • Germany 2.1
    • France 2.2
    • Portugal 2.3
    • Russia 2.4
    • Spain 2.5
    • United Kingdom 2.6
  • North America 3
    • Canada 3.1
    • Mexico 3.2
    • Puerto Rico 3.3
    • United States 3.4
  • Oceania 4
    • Australia 4.1
    • New Zealand 4.2
  • South America 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8




  • Early IWW struggles
  • Eight-Hour Movement Encyclopedia of Chicago

United States of America

  • Eight-hour-day Movement in New Zealand Encyclopedia of New Zealand (1966)
  • Origins of Labour Day in New Zealand

New Zealand

  • The Eight Hour Day and the Holy Spirit by Rowan Cahill
  • Eight Hour Day in Australia Union Songs site
  • Eight hour day medals from Museum Victoria
  • 150th anniversary commemorative website

External links

  • Anarchism and State Violence in Sydney and Melbourne 1886-1896, (1986) Bob James.
  • The Dramas of Haymarket accessed 23 June 2005
  • May Day, The Workers' Day, born in the struggle for the eight-hour day, Andy McInerney, in Liberation & Marxism, issue no. 27, Spring 1996
  • Mayday: A short History of 100 years of May Day 1890-1990 Melbourne May Day Committee, (1990)
  • Unionism and the Labor Movement, John Child, (1971)
  • A Documentary History of the Australian Labor Movement 1850 - 1975, Brian McKinley (ed), (1979) ISBN 0-909081-29-8
  • Labor Unions and Autocracy in Iran, Habib Ladjevardi, (1985) ISBN 0-8156-2343-7
  • Labor Law (1), Ezatollah Araghi, (2006) ISBN 964-459-678-1
  1. ^ Chase, Eric. "The Brief Origins of May Day". Industrial Workers of the World. Retrieved 2009-09-30. 
  2. ^ "The Haymarket Martyrs". The Illinois Labor History Society. Retrieved 2009-09-30. 
  3. ^ Marx, Karl (1867). Das Kapital. p. 376. 
  4. ^ Neocleous, Mark. "The Political Economy of the Dead: Marx’s Vampires". Brunel University. Retrieved 2013-11-07. 
  5. ^ Sidney Webb. "The eight hours day". Open Library. Retrieved 2014-07-14. 
  6. ^ "The New Canadian Ship Railway". Hardware. 10 Jan 1890. Retrieved 18 April 2013. 
  7. ^ Philip S. Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States, Vol. 1, From Colonial Times to the Founding of The American Federation of Labor, International Publishers, 1975, pages 116–118
  8. ^ "United States v. Martin - 94 U.S. 400 (1876) :: Justia US Supreme Court Center". Retrieved 2014-07-14. 
  9. ^ "336 U.S. 281". Retrieved 2014-07-14. 
  10. ^ "The Lines are Drawn". Retrieved 2014-07-14. 
  11. ^ New York Times "[Ford] Gives $10,000,000 To 26,000 Employees", The New York Times, January 5, 1914, accessed April 23, 2011.
  12. ^ Ford Motor Company "Henry Ford's $5-a-Day Revolution", Ford, January 5, 1914, accessed April 23, 2011.
  13. ^ HispanicPundit "Economic Myths: The 5 Day Work Week And The 8 Hour Day", Hispanic Pundit, September 21st, 2005, accessed April 23, 2011.
  14. ^ Byron Preiss Visual Publications, Inc. "Ford: Doubling the profit from 1914-1916", Hispanic Pundit, 1996, accessed April 24, 2011.
  15. ^ Philip Sheldon Foner (1982). History of the Labor Movement in the United States: 1915-1916, on the Eve of America's Entrance into World War I, Vol. 6. International Publishers Company, Incorporated. p. 196.  
  16. ^ Jonathan Grossman (June 1978). "Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938: Maximum Struggle for a Minimum Wage". Monthly Labor Review. US Department of Labor. Retrieved 2010-07-20. 
  17. ^ "National Fair Labor Standards Act". Chron. Retrieved 2013-11-12. 
  18. ^ Cahill, Rowan. "The Eight Hour Day and the Holy Spirit". Workers Online. Labor Council of N.S.W. Retrieved 1 October 2012. 
  19. ^  
  20. ^  



See also

A strike for the eight-hour day was held in May 1919 in Peru. In Uruguay during the second term of president José Batlle y Ordóñez unemployment compensation (1914), the eight-hour day (1915), and universal suffrage were introduced. In Chile it was introduced in 1924, after the Saber noise event (Ruido de sables), by the September Junta.

South America

Emigrants to the new settlement of Dunedin, Otago, while onboard ship decided on a reduction of working hours. When the resident agent of the New Zealand Company, Captain Cargill, attempted to enforce a ten-hour day in January 1849 in Dunedin, he was unable to overcome the resistance of trades people under the leadership of house painter and plumber, Samuel Shaw. Building trades in Auckland achieved the eight-hour day on 1 September 1857 after agitation led by Chartist painter, William Griffin. For many years the eight-hour day was confined to craft tradesmen and unionized workers. Labour Day#New Zealand, which commemorates the introduction of the eight-hour day, became a national public holiday in 1899. Although the holiday still exists in 2013 there is no longer a standard 40 hour week for any workers in New Zealand since the 1990s. The standard week may be anywhere between 40 and 45 hours for wage based full-time workers and salaried workers may work far longer. In hospitals salaried nurses are paid overtime with penal rates. Salaried police are also paid penal rates for overtime. Salaried teachers are not paid overtime for work after hours coaching or transporting sports teams or similar activities. From the 1990s many workers were placed on contracts that controlled their working conditions. Often the contracts did away with the concept of over time at increased rates.

Parnell is reported to have said: "There are twenty-four hours per day given us; eight of these should be for work, eight for sleep, and the remaining eight for recreation and in which for men to do what little things they want for themselves." With tradesmen in short supply the employer was forced to accept Parnell's terms. Parnell later wrote, "the first strike for eight hours a day the world has ever seen, was settled on the spot".[19][20]

Promoted by Samuel Duncan Parnell as early as 1840, when carpenter Wellington community. A meeting of Wellington carpenters in October 1840 pledged "to maintain the eight-hour working day, and that anyone offending should be ducked into the harbour". New Zealand is reputed to be the first country in the world to have adopted the eight-hour working day.

New Zealand

The intertwined numbers 888 soon adorned the Moomba festival on the Labour Day weekend. In capital cities and towns across Australia, Eight Hour day marches became a regular social event each year, with early marches often restricted to those workers who had won an eight-hour day.

It took further campaigning and struggles by trade unions to extend the reduction in hours to all workers in Australia. In 1916 the Victoria Eight Hours Act was passed granting the eight-hour day to all workers in the state. The eight-hour day was not achieved nationally until the 1920s. The Commonwealth Arbitration Court gave approval of the 40-hour five-day working week nationally beginning on 1 January 1948. The achievement of the eight-hour day has been described by historian

Eight-hour day procession by miners in Wyalong, New South Wales - late 1890s

In 1903 veteran socialist Tom Mann spoke to a crowd of a thousand people at the unveiling of the Eight Hour Day monument, funded by public subscription, on the south side of Parliament House on Spring St before relocating it in 1923 to the corner of Victoria and Russell Streets outside Melbourne Trades Hall.

Agitation was also occurring in James Stephens, T.W. Vine and James Galloway. The government agreed that workers employed on public works should enjoy an eight-hour day with no loss of pay and Stonemasons celebrated with a holiday and procession on Monday 12 May 1856, when about 700 people marched with 19 trades involved. By 1858 the eight-hour day was firmly established in the building industry and by 1860 the eight-hour day was fairly widely worked in Victoria. From 1879 the eight-hour day was a public holiday in Victoria. The initial success in Melbourne led to the decision to organize a movement, to actively spread the eight-hour idea, and secure the condition generally.

The Stonemasons' Society in Sydney issued an ultimatum to employers on 18 August 1855 saying that after six months masons would work only an eight-hour day. Due to the rapid increase in population caused by the gold rushes, many buildings were being constructed, so skilled labour was scarce. Stonemasons working on the Holy Trinity Church and the Mariners' Church (an evangelical mission to seafarers), decided not to wait and pre-emptively went on strike, thus winning the eight-hour day. They celebrated with a victory dinner on 1 October 1855 which to this day is celebrated as a Labour Day holiday in the state of New South Wales. When the six-month ultimatum expired in February 1856, stonemasons generally agitated for a reduction of hours. Although opposed by employers, a two-week strike on the construction of Tooth's Brewery on Parramatta Road proved effective, and stonemasons won an eight-hour day by early March 1856, but with a reduction in wages to match.[18]

Eight-hour day banner, Melbourne, 1856

The Australian gold rushes attracted many skilled tradesmen to Australia. Some of them had been active in the chartism movement, and subsequently became prominent in the campaign for better working conditions in the Australian colonies. The eight hour day began in 1856 in the month of May.

Eight-hour day march circa 1900, outside Parliament House in Spring Street, Melbourne.



The eight-hour day might have been realized for many working people in the U.S. in 1937, when what became the Fair Labor Standards Act (29 U.S. Code Chapter 8) was first proposed under the New Deal. As enacted, the act applied to industries whose combined employment represented about twenty percent of the U.S. labor force. In those industries, it set the maximum workweek at 40 hours,[16] but provided that employees working beyond 40 hours a week would receive additional overtime bonus salaries.[17]

The United States Adamson Act in 1916 established an eight-hour day, with additional pay for overtime, for railroad workers. This was the first federal law that regulated the hours of workers in private companies. The United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Act in Wilson v. New, 243 U.S. 332 (1917).

In the summer of 1915, amid increased labor demand for World War I, a series of strikes demanding the eight-hour day began in Bridgeport, Connecticut. They were so successful that they spread throughout the Northeast.[15]

On January 5, 1914, the Ford Motor Company took the radical step of doubling pay to $5 a day and cut shifts from nine hours to eight, moves that were not popular with rival companies, although seeing the increase in Ford's productivity, and a significant increase in profit margin (from $30 million to $60 million in two years), most soon followed suit.[11][12][13][14]

By 1905, the eight-hour day was widely installed in the printing trades – see International Typographical Union (section) – but the vast majority of Americans worked 12-14 hour days.

The Building Trades Council (BTC) of San Francisco, under the leadership of planing mill from which construction employers could obtain supplies — or face boycotts and sympathy strikes if they did not. The mill owners went to arbitration, where the union won the eight-hour day, a closed shop for all skilled workers, and an arbitration panel to resolve future disputes. In return, the union agreed to refuse to work with material produced by non-union planing mills or those that paid less than the Bay Area employers.

The United Mine Workers won an eight-hour day in 1898.

The American Federation of Labor, meeting in St Louis in December 1888, set May 1, 1890 as the day that American workers should work no more than eight hours. The International Workingmen's Association (Second International), meeting in Paris in 1889, endorsed the date for international demonstrations, thus starting the international tradition of May Day.

On May 3, 1886, August Spies, editor of the Arbeiter-Zeitung (Workers Newspaper), spoke at a meeting of 6,000 workers, and afterwards many of them moved down the street to harass strikebreakers at the McCormick plant in Chicago. The police arrived, opened fire, and killed four people, wounding many more. At a subsequent rally on May 4 to protest this violence, a bomb exploded at the Haymarket Square. Hundreds of labour activists were rounded up and the prominent labour leaders arrested, tried, convicted, and executed giving the movement its first martyrs. On June 26, 1893 Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld set the remaining leader free, and granted full pardons to all those tried claiming they were innocent of the crime for which they had been tried and the hanged men had been the victims of "hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge".

Artist impression of the bomb explosion in Haymarket Square

The leadership of the Knights of Labor, under Terence V. Powderly, rejected appeals to join the movement as a whole, but many local Knights assemblies joined the strike call including Chicago, Cincinnati and Milwaukee. On May 1, 1886, Albert Parsons, head of the Chicago Knights of Labor, with his wife Lucy Parsons and two children, led 80,000 people down Michigan Avenue, Chicago, in what is regarded as the first modern May Day Parade, in support of the eight-hour day. In the next few days they were joined nationwide by 350,000 workers who went on strike at 1,200 factories, including 70,000 in Chicago, 45,000 in New York, 32,000 in Cincinnati, and additional thousands in other cities. Some workers gained shorter hours (eight or nine) with no reduction in pay; others accepted pay cuts with the reduction in hours.

At its convention in

During the 1870s, eight hours became a central demand, especially among labor organizers, with a network of Eight-Hour Leagues which held rallies and parades. A hundred thousand workers in New York City struck and won the eight-hour day in 1872, mostly for building trades workers. In Chicago, Albert Parsons became recording secretary of the Chicago Eight-Hour League in 1878, and was appointed a member of a national eight-hour committee in 1880.

In August 1866, the National Labor Union at Baltimore passed a resolution that said, "The first and great necessity of the present to free labour of this country from capitalist slavery, is the passing of a law by which eight hours shall be the normal working day in all States of the American Union. We are resolved to put forth all our strength until this glorious result is achieved."

In 1864, the eight-hour day quickly became a central demand of the Chicago labor movement. The Illinois legislature passed a law in early 1867 granting an eight-hour day but had so many loopholes that it was largely ineffective. A city-wide strike that began on May 1, 1867 shut down the city's economy for a week before collapsing. On June 25, 1868, Congress passed an eight-hour law for federal employees[8][9] which was also of limited effectiveness. (On May 19, 1869, Grant signed a National Eight Hour Law Proclamation).[10]

In the United States, Philadelphia carpenters went on strike in 1791 for the ten-hour day. By the 1830s, this had become a general demand. In 1835, workers in Philadelphia organized the first general strike in North America, led by Irish coal heavers. Their banners read, From 6 to 6, ten hours work and two hours for meals.[7] Labor movement publications called for an eight-hour day as early as 1836. Boston ship carpenters, although not unionized, achieved an eight-hour day in 1842.

United States

In George W. Davis acceded to Island demands and decreed freedom of assembly, speech, press, religion and an eight-hour day for government employees.

Puerto Rico

The Mexican labor law.


The labour movement in Canada tracked progress in the US and UK. In 1890, the Federation of Labour took up this issue, hoping to organize participation in May Day.[6]


North America

In 1884, Trades Union Congress to adopt the eight-hour day as a key goal. The British socialist economist Sidney Webb and the scholar Harold Cox co-wrote a book supporting the "Eight Hours Movement" in Britain.[5]

The Factory Act of 1833 limited the work day for children in factories. Those aged 9–13 could work only eight hours, 14-18 12 hours. Children under 9 were required to attend school.

The Modern Bed of Procrustes
Procrustes. "Now then, you fellows; I mean to fit you all to my little bed!"
Chorus. "Oh lor-r!!"
"It is impossible to establish universal uniformity of hours without inflicting very serious injury to workers." — Motion at the recent Trades' Congress.
Cartoon from Punch, Vol 101, September 19, 1891

United Kingdom

In the region of Alcoy, Spain, workers struck in 1873 for the eight-hour day following much agitation from the anarchists. In 1919 in Barcelona, after a 44-day general strike with over 100,000 participants had effectively crippled the Catalan economy, the Government in Barcelona settled the strike by granting all the striking workers demands that included an eight-hour day, union recognition, and the rehiring of fired workers. Spain was the first country to pass a national eight-hour day law. See Anarchism in Spain.


In Russia, the eight-hour day was introduced in 1917, four days after the October Revolution, by a Decree of the Soviet government.


In Portugal a vast wave of strikes occurred in 1919, supported by the National Workers' Union, the biggest labour union organization at the time. The workers achieved important objectives, including the historic victory of an eight-hour day.


The 40-hour week was enacted in France during the Popular Front with the 1936 Matignon agreements.


At the turn of the 20th century the eight-hour day was introduced by Ernst Abbe at the Zeiss plants in Jena, Germany.


Demonstration in the Netherlands for the eight-hour day, 1924
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