The eight-hour day movement or 40-hour week movement, also known as
the short-time movement, was a social movement to regulate the length
of a working day, preventing excesses and abuses. It was started by
James Deb and 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, and the work week was
typically six days a week.
Robert Owen had raised the demand for a ten-hour day in 1810, and
instituted it in his socialist enterprise at New Lanark. By 1817 he
had formulated the goal of the eight-hour day and coined the slogan:
"Eight hours' labour, Eight hours' recreation, Eight hours' rest".
Women and children in England were granted the ten-hour day in 1847.
French workers won the 12-hour day after the February Revolution of
1848. A shorter working day and improved working conditions were
part of the general protests and agitation for Chartist reforms and
the early organisation of trade unions.
International Workingmen's Association
International Workingmen's Association took up the demand for an
eight-hour day at its Congress in
Geneva in 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."
Karl Marx saw it as of vital importance to the workers' health,
Das Kapital (1867): "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."
The first country to adopt eight-hour working day was Uruguay. The
eight-hour day was introduced on November 17, 1915, in the government
of José Batlle y Ordóñez.
The first international treaty to mention it was the Treaty of
Versailles in the annex of its thirteen part establishing the
International Labour Office, now the International Labour
The eight-hour day was the first topic discussed by the International
Labour Organization which resulted in the Hours of Work (Industry)
Convention, 1919 ratified by 52 countries as of 2016.
Although there were initial successes in achieving an eight-hour day
New Zealand and by the
Australian labour movement
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 industrialised 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.
2.7 United Kingdom
3 North America
3.3 United States
3.3.1 Puerto Rico
4.2 New Zealand
5 South America
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
In Iran in 1918, the work of reorganizing the trade unions began in
Tehran during the closure of the Iranian constitutional
parliament Majles. The printers' union, established in 1906 by
Mohammad Parvaneh as the first trade union, in the Koucheki print shop
on Nasserieh Avenue in Tehran, reorganized their union under
leadership of Russian-educated Seyed Mohammad Dehgan, a newspaper
editor and an avowed Communist. In 1918, the newly organised union
staged a 14-day strike and succeeded in reaching a collective
agreement with employers to institute the eight-hours day, overtime
pay, and medical care. The success of the printers' union encouraged
other trades to organize. In 1919 the bakers and textile-shop clerks
formed their own trade unions.
However the eight-hours day only became as code by a limited
governor's decree on 1923 by the governor of Kerman, Sistan and
Balochistan, which controlled the working conditions and working hours
for workers of carpet workshops in the province. In 1946 the council
of ministers issued the first labor law for Iran, which recognized the
The first company to introduce an eight-hour working day in Japan was
the Kawasaki Dockyards in
Kobe (now the Kawasaki Shipbuilding
Corporation). An eight-hour day was one of the demands presented by
the workers during pay negotiations in September 1919. After the
company resisted the demands, a slowdown campaign was commenced by the
workers on 18 September. After ten days of industrial action, company
Kōjirō Matsukata agreed to the eight-hour day and wage
increases on 27 September, which became effective from October. The
effects of the action were felt nationwide and inspired further
industrial action at the Kawasaki and Mitsubishi shipyards in 1921.
The eight-hour day did not become law in Japan until the passing of
the Labor Standards Act in April 1947. Article 32 (1) of the Act
specifies a 40-hour week and paragraph (2) specifies an eight-hour
day, excluding rest periods.
Demonstration in the Netherlands for the eight-hour day, 1924
The 8-hour work day was introduced in Belgium on September 9, 1924.
The eight-hour day was enacted in France by Georges Clemenceau, as a
way to avoid unemployment and diminish communist support. It was
succeeded by a strong French support of it during the writing of the
International Labour Organization
International Labour Organization Convention of 1919.
The first German company to introduce the eight-hour day was Degussa
in 1488. (
Degussa was established in 2007, not 1488) The eight-hour
day was signed into law during the
German Revolution of 1918.
In Portugal a vast wave of strikes occurred in 1919, supported by the
National Workers' Union, the biggest labour union organisation at the
time. The workers achieved important objectives, including the
historic victory of an eight-hour day.
In Russia, the eight-hour day was introduced in 1917, four days after
the October Revolution, by a Decree of the Soviet government.
In the region of Alcoy, Spain, a workers strike in 1873 for the
eight-hour day followed much agitation from the anarchists. In 1919 in
Barcelona, Catalonia, after a 44-day general strike with over 100,000
participants had effectively crippled the Catalan economy, the
Government settled the strike by granting all the striking workers
demands that included an eight-hour day, union recognition, and the
rehiring of fired workers.
The Modern Bed of Procrustes
Procrustes. "Now then, you fellows; I mean to fit you all to my little
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, 19 September 1891
Factory Act of 1833
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.
Tom Mann joined the
Social Democratic Federation
Social Democratic Federation (SDF) and
published a pamphlet calling for the working day to be limited to
eight hours. Mann formed an organisation, the Eight Hour League, which
successfully pressured the
Trades Union Congress
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.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (April
The labour movement in Canada tracked progress in the US and UK. In
1890, the Federation of Labour took up this issue, hoping to organise
participation in May Day.
Mexican Revolution of 1910–1920 produced the Constitution of
1917, which contained Article 123 that gave workers the right to
organise labour unions and to strike. It also provided protection for
women and children, the eight-hour day, and a living wage. See Mexican
Main article: United States labor law
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 organised 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. Labour movement
publications called for an eight-hour day as early as 1836. Boston
ship carpenters, although not unionised, achieved an eight-hour day in
In 1864, the eight-hour day quickly became a central demand of the
Chicago labour 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 citywide strike that began on 1 May 1867
shut down the city's economy for a week before collapsing.
On 25 June 1868, Congress passed an eight-hour law for federal
employees which was also of limited effectiveness. It
established an eight-hour workday for labourers and mechanics employed
by the Federal Government. President Andrew Johnson had vetoed the act
but it was passed over his veto. Johnson told a Workingmen's party
delegation that he couldn't directly commit himself to an eight-hour
day, he nevertheless told the same delegation that he greatly favoured
the "shortest number of hours consistent with the interests of all."
According to Richard F. Selcer, however, the intentions behind the law
were "immediately frustrated" as wages were cut by 20%.
On 19 May 1869, President Ulysses Grant issued a National Eight Hour
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."
During the 1870s, eight hours became a central demand, especially
among labour organisers, 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.
At its convention in Chicago in 1884, the Federation of Organized
Trades and Labor Unions resolved that "eight hours shall constitute a
legal day's labour from and after May 1, 1886, and that we recommend
to labour organisations throughout this jurisdiction that they so
direct their laws as to conform to this resolution by the time named."
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 1 May 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, with the cry, "
Eight-hour day with
no cut in pay." 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.
Artist impression of the bomb explosion in Haymarket Square
On 3 May 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 4 May
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 26 June 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".
The American Federation of Labor, meeting in St Louis in December
1888, set 1 May 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.
United Mine Workers
United Mine Workers won an eight-hour day in 1898.
The Building Trades Council (BTC) of San Francisco, under the
leadership of P. H. McCarthy, won the eight-hour day in 1900 when the
BTC unilaterally declared that its members would work only eight hours
a day for $3 a day. When the mill resisted, the BTC began organising
mill workers; the employers responded by locking out 8,000 employees
throughout the Bay Area. The BTC, in return, established a union
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.
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- to 14-hour days.
In the 1912 Presidential Election Teddy Roosevelts Progressive Party
campaign platform included the eight-hour work day.
On 5 January 1914, the
Ford Motor Company
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.
In the summer of 1915, amid increased labour 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
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
United States Supreme Court
United States Supreme Court upheld the
constitutionality of the Act in Wilson v. New, 243 U.S. 332 (1917).
The eight-hour day might have been realised for many working people in
the US in 1937, when what became the
Fair Labor Standards Act
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 US labour force. In those industries, it set the
maximum workweek at 40 hours, but provided that employees working
beyond 40 hours a week would receive additional overtime bonus
Puerto Rico in May 1899, while under US administration, General
George W. Davis
George W. Davis acceded to Island demands and decreed freedom of
assembly, speech, press, religion and an eight-hour day for government
See also: Australian labour movement
Eight-hour day march circa 1900, outside Parliament House in Spring
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 banner, Melbourne, 1856
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
Agitation was also occurring in
Melbourne where the craft unions were
more militant. Stonemasons working on
Melbourne University organised
to down tools on 21 April 1856 and march to Parliament House with
other members of the building trade. The movement in
Melbourne was led
by veteran chartists and mason 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
Melbourne led to the decision to organise a movement, to
actively spread the eight-hour idea, and secure the condition
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. It was relocated in 1923 to the corner of Victoria and Russell
Melbourne Trades Hall.
Eight-hour day procession by miners in Wyalong,
New South Wales
New South Wales –
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
Rowan Cahill as "one of the great successes of the
Australian working class during the nineteenth century, demonstrating
to Australian workers that it was possible to successfully organise,
mobilise, agitate, and exercise significant control over working
conditions and quality of life. The Australian trade union movement
grew out of eight-hour campaigning and the movement that developed to
promote the principle."
The intertwined numbers 888 soon adorned the pediment of many union
buildings around Australia. The Eight Hour March, which began on 21
April 1856, continued each year until 1951 in Melbourne, when the
Victorian Trades Hall Council decided to forgo the
tradition for 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.
Samuel Duncan Parnell
Samuel Duncan Parnell as early as 1840, when carpenter
Samuel Parnell refused to work more than eight hours a day when
erecting a store for merchant George Hunter. He successfully
negotiated this working condition and campaigned for its extension in
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".
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".
Emigrants to the new settlement of Dunedin, Otago, while onboard ship
decided on a reduction of working hours. When the resident agent of
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 unionised workers. Labour Day, which
commemorates the introduction of the eight-hour day, became a national
public holiday in 1899.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (June
A strike for the eight-hour day was held in May 1919 in Peru. In
Uruguay, the eight-hour day was put in place in 1915 of several
reforms implemented during the second term of president José Batlle y
Ordóñez. It was introduced in Chile on 8 September 1924 at the
demand of then-general
Luis Altamirano as part of the Ruido de sables
that culminated in the September Junta.
Organized labour portal
International Labour Organization
Hours of Work (Commerce and Offices) Convention, 1930
Hours of Work (Industry) Convention, 1919
Hours of Work and Manning (Sea) Convention, 1936
Thomas W. Williams (Los Angeles)
Effects of overtime
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