For a 6-hour day with no cut in pay

BY:Beatrice Lumpkin| May 29, 2019

U.S. workers pioneered the fight for the 8-hour day in 1886, now celebrated worldwide as May 1st, International Workers Day. Today, 133 years later, the standard in the United States is still 8 hours/day, 40 hours/ week. Workers here work even more hours per year than workers in other industrialized countries: 499 more than France, 260 more than the U. K. and 137 more than Japan.

Meanwhile there have been dramatic increases in labor productivity. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (quoted by Leo Gerard–USW) labor productivity has gone up 400 percent since 1950 alone. Since wages have been held stagnant, all that increased productivity has been siphoned off into obscenely swollen profits, forcing inequality up to record levels. At this time. we are poised for another huge increase in productivity with the expansion of machine learning and greater use of robots.

Based on past experience, workers fear this new revolution in technology will cost them their jobs and result in devastation of their communities. When I worked at Bowen High School in the heart of Chicago’s steeltown in the 1980’s, an intruder had broken into the computer room and put a bullet in the heart of each computer. Was he blaming computers for the closing of all of the steel mills around the school? Most workers do feel helpless because they cannot stop advances in production technology. In the absence of a progressive fightback program, they lose hope and can become desperate.

The positive fightback program we need must surely include the fight for a shorter work week. The Communist Party USA has long been a leader in that fight. In the 1980s, together with Labor Today, we helped inspire a broad movement for a shorter work week that won gains in some industries. We also helped organize the unemployed in JOIN, an organization fighting for “Jobs Or Income Now.” My husband, Frank Lumpkin, was chairman of JOIN and many of our comrades were among the leaders. At the time, Frank was leading a 17-year struggle of 3,000 workers whose steel mill had closed without paying the workers. Among the steelworkers nationally, sentiment for a shorter work week with no cut in pay was very strong as far back as 1960.

Steelworkers had been losing jobs for years over a combination of new labor-saving methods in steel production and importing steel from low-wage countries. There was discussion of reducing the 8-hour shifts to 6-hour shifts and no cut in pay. Then instead of three 8-hour shifts, there would be four 6-hour shifts and those laid off would be called back to work. Unfortunately, United Steelworkers did not win the 6-hour day. But in 1968, they did win 13-week paid vacations every 5 years for the more senior half of workers. That did win back a small fraction of the jobs but even that was lost in the period when unions were forced to give “concessions”.

The CPUSA raised the radical demand for the nationalization of the steel industry. It was the sensible answer to the dilemma we faced when steel mills started closing like falling dominoes. At that time, a study found that half the bridges in the country were in need of replacement or extensive repair. (In 2017, the number of bridges needing repair was still huge, 55,710. Washington Post, 2-15-17) The steel required for the replacements and repairs would require every mill in the country to run full blast and to reopen all of the closed mills. But there was no way the privately owned steel industry would put peoples’ needs before their profits. Only a publicly owned and democratically operated steel industry could put people first.

Current expansion of labor-saving technology makes it urgent to fight again for a 6-hour day with no cut in pay. I have submitted such a resolution to this convention and am pleased to say that the resolution committee is recommending its passage. I hope it will be part of our strong economic fightback program that is now under development. In addition to featuring the demand for a shorter work week in our job-creating program, improved public services for working families is an important issue to include.

Providing the public services needed by working families would require hiring many millions more teachers, nurses, doctors, and millions of the all-important support personnel for education and health services. Just to staff universal pre-K schooling and nation-wide smaller class size for K-12 would require hiring millions of additional teachers. All of these expanded services would also require hiring more office workers and supportive staff.

We have not yet mentioned updating the infrastructure and that would create many jobs. Nor have we mentioned action to prevent runaway climate change. Retrofitting buildings for fuel efficiency is urgently needed and would create many new jobs — as would expanding the use of renewable fuels. That would go a long way to replace the job loss in fossil fuels whose workers must be made whole. But there is still another huge source of new jobs that we should explore.

Winning the 6-hour day would increase the capacity of workers to develop culturally and create more jobs for painters, sculptors, musicians, actors, writers, photographers, recreational specialists and more. These are a few examples; there are many more, including many we haven’t thought of yet. Those worried that robots will replace us and human labor will no longer be needed, should have no worry on that account. In a rational society, aka socialism, the demand for labor will always be greater than the number of workers.


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