This is a brilliant, brilliant article.
Sarah Robinson's history of the 40-hour work week is THE piece which you must read right now.
Here's a sampler:
And it may sound weird, but it’s true: the single easiest, fastest thing your company can do to boost its output and profits — starting right now, today — is to get everybody off the 55-hour-a-week treadmill, and back onto a 40-hour footing.
“Throughout the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, these studies were apparently conducted by the hundreds,” writes Robinson; “and by the 1960s, the benefits of the 40-hour week were accepted almost beyond question in corporate America. In 1962, the Chamber of Commerce even published a pamphlet extolling the productivity gains of reduced hours.”
What these studies showed, over and over, was that industrial workers have eight good, reliable hours a day in them. On average, you get no more widgets out of a 10-hour day than you do out of an eight-hour day.
In fact, research shows that knowledge workers actually have fewer good hours in a day than manual laborers do — on average, about six hours, as opposed to eight.
The end of the 40 hour work week coincided with the end of American manufacturing.
During the Reagan years, Silicon Valley -- with its culture of "If you're awake, you're working (and don't sleep)" -- led America down the wrong path. As Adam Curtis has pointed out in his documentaries, Silicon Valley is also the place where Ayn Randism made its transition from fringe-think to the mainstream:
The new ideal was to unleash “internal entrepreneurs” — Randian übermenschen who would devote all their energies to the corporation’s success, in expectation of great reward — and who were willing to assume all the risks themselves. In this brave new world, the real go-getters were the ones who were willing to put in weekends and Saturdays, who put their families on hold, who ate at their desks and slept in their cubicles. Forty-hour weeks were for losers and slackers, who began to vanish from America’s business landscape. And with their passing, we all but forgot all the very good reasons that we used to have those limits.
Within 15 years, everything America’s managers used to know about sustaining worker productivity was forgotten. Now, 30 years and a few economic meltdowns on, the cafeterias and child-care centers and gyms are mostly gone, along with the stock options and bonuses that were once held out as the potential reward for the long hours. All that remains of those heady, optimistic days is the mandatory 60-hour work-week. And, unless you’re an hourly worker — still entitled to time and a half by law — the only inducement employers currently offer in exchange for submitting yourself to this abuse is that you get to keep your job.
New hires at WalMart have little incentive to rise in the company. Once an employee goes beyond the hourly level, he or she can expect to work 50 to 80 hours a week. A comment here
...lots of my coworkers were persuasively asked (code for forced under threat of job loss) to work 60, 70 or more hours a week. In fact I was a WalMart the other day speaking to a general manager (or whatever the weirdo Walmart title is for general manager) and she said that they worked her so much on salary that she made $4.71 a hour if you divided her gross pay by the number of hours worked. Insane. Welcome to the land of salvary.
You wanna know where we are heading? In China, many workers sleep in company dorms. In Dubai, the Burj was built with slave labor. In America, the Dominionists want to legalize indentured servitude. That's where we are heading.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Libertarianism is the true road to serfdom.
Let's have one last quote from Robinson's piece:
For every four Americans working a 50-hour week, every week, there’s one American who should have a full-time job, but doesn’t. Our rampant unemployment problem would vanish overnight if we simply worked the way we’re supposed to by law.
I'm old enough to recall when the 40 hour work week began to slip away. At first, those who willingly gave up their lives for their jobs received plush rewards. Eventually, the only reward was -- the job itself. You got to keep it.
Anyone with sense could have foreseen that outcome. Alas, sense was in short supply in the 1980s.
Let this issue be a metric by which we judge our politicians. Is it really too much to ask of Democratic candidates that they support the 40 hour work week?