8-Hour Workday

The introduction of the 8-hour-workday had been demanded by striking workers as early as 1886 (Chicago, US). The Socialist International adopted the demand for the workday to be limited to 8 hours at it's PARIS CONGRESS of 1890 and declared MAY DAY as the day of concerted action. In 1898, the UNION OF MINE WORKERS (US) succeeded in having the 8-hour-workday introduced for the US mining sector.
In World War I, in many belligerent countries multiparty coalition governments were formed, permitting the Social Democratic Parties (respectively Socialists/Labour) for the first time in history to actively participate in government. During the war, millions of workers served in uniform, women from workers' families worked in the factories, workers' families suffered from malnutrition and famine. At the end of the war, workers' patience was thin and expectations high, with the revolution in progress in Russia.
Under precarious conditions of a continuous shortage in food and vital consumer goods and the potential of escalating political violence, many governments enacted labour laws establishing sunday as a national holiday (thus fixing the regular work week at 6 days) and the workday at 8 hours.
The sample of Norway (neutral during the war) shows how great an accomplishment this was; only in 1915 the workday had been fixed at 10 hours a day; thus previously it had been even higher.
When the economic crisis of the early 1920es is discussed, the reduction in working hours, although a critical factor, is rarely mentioned.

Limitation of The Workday


1915 10-hour-workday introduced, 1919 8-hour-workday
1918 8-hour-workday introduced, legacy of German November Revolution
1919 8-hour workday introduced
1919 8-hour-workday introduced
1921 8-hour-workday introduced
1922 8.5-hour-workday introduced

The Haymarket Tragedy, from ILHS (on strike Chicago 1886)
The Edmonton Strike of 1919, by Eugene W. Plawiuk (Labor News, 1994)
DOCUMENTS Picture Postcard Germany c. 1900, advertising the 8-hour workday, from Acht Stunden sind kein Tag - Geschichte der Gewerkschaften in Bayern

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 3rd 2004

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