For most Americans an eight-hour work day is something we take for granted. It is hard to believe that at one time in our history people labored on factory floors for 10 to 16 hours a day or picked cotton from sun up to sun down six days-a-week. Unlike those sweat-shop workers of yesteryear, today’s worker is more concerned with having their job off-shored or being replaced by a robot. Technology has replaced workers on the assembly line as well as on the bank teller line.
It was after the Civil War, the first real industrial strength war that the industrial revolution started to crank it up into high gear. Workers had to kick it up a notch as they raced with machines to keep up with production. It was the Gilded Age when a buck earned was a tax free buck, which is appealing in any Age.
The industrialist of this time had few, if any, labor laws or regulations to slow production down. Any hint of a child labor law or a minimum wage was at worst anarchy or at least some form of creeping socialism that had to be eradicated.
On May 4, 1886 in Chicago’s Haymarket Square a protest over workers’ rights turned deadly when somebody (an archaist) chucked a bomb at police sent to disperse the rally. The ensuing riot killed seven policemen and at least four civilians. Police rounded up eight local anarchists. In the ensuing trial for conspiracy seven of the eight were sentenced to hang and one was given a 15 year prison sentence.
However, a 40 hour work week as not as far fetched as it seemed. Forty years later on May 1st Henry Ford would be one of the first industrialists to bring the eight-hour-a-day, 40 hour-a-week work schedule to the factory floor. In 1914 Ford began paying his workers a minimum wage of $5 a day for an eight hour day. This was a raise from $2.34 for nine hours-a-day.
To put some perspective on this the Federal Minimum Wage in 1977 was $2.30 an-hour. The current rate is $7.50 an-hour and may vary from state to state. In many cities there is a push for a $15 an-hour minimum wage. Economists and politicians debate the impact that these wage hikes will have on the price of hamburger. One thing is certain: The economy did not collapse when Henry Ford put in the 40 hour week and Americans did not become communists.