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The 40 Hour Week


Speaking of the new Gilded Age, Sara Robinson has an outstanding piece on the decline of the 40 hour work week.

Many interesting points. Robinson puts a lot of blame on the rise of Silicon Valley as the impetus for destroying the 40 hour week, along with more obvious suspects like Republican attacks on unions. What’s interesting to me is the connection between long days and both a lack of worker productivity and a spike in worker accidents.

Even back in the 1910s, the Industrial Workers of the World based their push for an 8-hour day in the Pacific Northwest forests around worker safety, arguing that a disproportionate percentage of deadly accidents took place after the 8th working hour, when workers were tired and careless. There are plenty of studies over the past century that show happy workers laboring for 8-hour shifts are outright more productive than keeping people working for 10 or 12 hours for a long period of time. That’s part of the reason Henry Ford went to the 8-hour day. But I guess the lure of absolute power over labor is always tempting for capitalists so keeping them on the job for longer is an outright good thing from that perspective.

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