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earning between an eight-hour and a ten-hour day may be sufficient to prevent any profit at all.
It must be borne in mind that a great many of our industries have for years been working only a nine-hour day, and many have been working a still longer time, only a fifty-four or fifty-five-hour week, because of the Saturday half holiday. This curtailment of working time has correspondingly curtailed product and profit in the industries practicing it.
Employers who are working under the Saturday half holiday know well that this is the most acceptable curtailment of hours to the workmen themselves, and that they will willingly work over time the previous five days in the week in order to be free Saturday afternoon. Employers also know well that the eighthour day does not include working eight hours on Saturday. The short Saturday has come to stay. The eight-hour day will be only in name; there will be forty-three or forty-four hours divided among five days of the week and four or five hours on Saturday.
The real fact is the workmen themselves do not want an eight-hour day unless it insures their present full day's pay. This is the crux of the whole case. With them it is a question of money, not hours, and those agitating it are responsible for coupling with it “time and half” for time over eight hours.
Every employer knows that all workmen are fearful of short time as work become slack. It is the greatest anxiety they know, because it reduces their earnings, though the wage rate per hour or day remains the same. In the recent depressions in business, reductions in the wage rates were the exception; the hours were cut down, in some cases materially, and the earnings were proportionately less, but the workman no more welcomed the short days than did his employer.
It is constantly being stated by those agitating the question that the eight-hour day is essential to preserve the necessary vigor of workmen for their daily tasks. If this is true, there should be evidence after so long a period of the ten-hour day that the vigor of workmen has deteriorated but no such evidence has been produced, nor is deterioration apparent. The available records of at least one large metal trades plant in eastern Pennsylvania, employing between five hundred and six hundred men, show that the loss of time from all causes in a period of five years, thirty-five years ago was about seven and one-third percent, while in a similar period of five years, 1908-1912, the loss was slightly less than six percent. In the period of five years, 1912-1916, the loss was 5.873 percent. It is conceded that this is a somewhat crude method of comparison, but it is reasonable to conclude therefrom that there has been no impairment of vigor.
The indisputable facts are that practically every industry which formerly required severe manual labor has been so completely changed by labor-saving machinery, that the workman of today is in better physical condition at the end of the day than he was in the earlier industrial periods. Much machinery in those times still required severe human exertion. Hydraulics were employed to some extent, pneumatic and electric installations were practically unknown, while now the pressure of a button or the turn of a valve enables one man to perform with a minimum of effort what formerly required the hard labor of a number of men and this condition is being extended into all kinds of industry from day to day. The modern factory and mill is as brilliantly lighted at night as in broad day, and the sanitation provided is the best known. And all this is being done by the employing interests of this country, while paying the highest wage rates in the world.
Economic laws may be interfered with temporarily by legislative action, but it is inevitable that where there is such interference trouble will result, and this trouble will finally compel a readjustment to the original economic principles. If the eight-hour day is economically impossible in the United States, all the legislation of all the States and Congress combined will not make it possible. In the meantime, however, if there be such legislation, there will be commercial and industrial disturbance and trouble, but eventually commerce and industry will be compelled to readjust themselves to economic laws neutralizing legislative action.
The real problem in the eight-hour day is whether the country can stand it from a commercial point of view. Let
us assume that tomorrow by legislative enactment, all labor was placed on an eight-hour basis—that is, the humanitarian basis of only eight hours work in a day. There are 30,000,000 workers in the United States, and the average working day including agricultural laborers, is probably in excess of ten hours. There would be an immediate reduction, therefore, of two hours per day, involving 30,000,000 workers, or 60,000000 hours per day, lost to productivity in the United States. Can anyone imagine that this country could continue either to produce what is necessary for its own consumption, or enter into competition with foreign nations in the foreign field under such circumstances? Naturally this will be declared immediately to be impossible. There would be a lack of necessary production. This point is scarcely debatable.
Let us take it the other way, and establish an eight-hour basic day for all industry, reducing the average basic working day for all workers of the United States by two hours, but paying them over time for those two hours. There would be an increase immediately of 60,000,000 hours' extra wages in the United States, or at pay and half pay, which is the general demand, 90,000,000.
It is difficult to figure how much this would increase the cost of production; how it would eliminate us immediately either from competition in the foreign markets, or from a position of domination in our home markets. It is perfectly plain that it would. Therefore, the eight-hour basic day as applied to all industry is as impossible as the eight-hour working day, from the point of view of commerce and industry in the United States.
A very important point in connection with the shorter working day, that is, the shorter basic working day, and increased pay for overtime, is the increased cost of production actually involved. In the recent railroad situation, it was asserted that no one could tell whether there would be an increased cost or not, nor could they tell what that increased cost would be, pending investigation. That may be perfectly true, so far as it applies to the railroad situation, although experts in that line have pointed out that it would cost from
$60,000,000 to $100,000,000 per year. It is also shown by expert analysts who are not railroad officials that if their enginemen and trainmen were to work eight hours per day and no more the number of these classes of employes would have to be increased by not less than 40,000.
If the maximum limitation of eight hours per day were to be extended to all railroad employes, the present number would have to be increased by at least 250,000. It is also pointed out that a standard required by social justice in the case of the railroads would have to be extended to other occupations, and we have been discussing the application of the eight-hour day to all occupations.
An estimate made by the New York Times indicates that to extend the eight hours per day limitation to all the industries of the country, including farms, mines, factories, and railroads would necessitate the immediate employment of 7,200,000 more individuals than are now employed. Is this possible in the United States? Obviously it is not. It is particularly impossible at the present time as the immigration of workmen has virtually ceased, and the ranks even of those formerly available have been diminished by emigration. There is no considerable industry in the United States today that is not suffering for lack of workmen. The troubles in Mexico have depleted the working forces through the call for military service of our Government.
But to revert to the question of increased cost of production as the result of granting either an eight-hour day, in the humanitarian and fictitious sense, or the eight-hour basic day, it is possible to present certain figures which have the force, at least of official approval.
An investigation was made in 1904 by the Department of Commerce and Labor, of the actual results of production under reduced hours of work. It was especially directed to an examination of the results of the operation of manufacturing establishments which had within recent years made a reduction in hours of work, and could make a definite comparison of results after the reduction with results in the same establishments prior to that time. The investigation covered 396 different establishments. The main point of the comparison related to cost of manufacture and to quantity of product per employe, and whether, where the quantity of product fell off, a greater number of working people was employed, or an increase was made in the number of days in the year in which the work was carried on. The investigation was not confined to manufacturing establishments operating on the eight-hour basis inasmuch as the number of eight-hour establishments at that time was small, and data for comparison was sought where a reduction from ten to nine hours per day, or any other substantial reduction, had been made and a definite result indicated. Of the 396 establishments, 47, or 11.9 percent, made a reduction to the eight-hour day (48 hours per week); 57, or 14.4 percent made a reduction to less than 48 hours, and 292, or 73.7 percent made a substantial reduction, but still had a working day longer than eight hours. The greater number of those working less than 48 hours per week were in the building and allied trades, and the very short day was due to the Saturday half holiday.
It is interesting to note that of these 396 establishments, 316, or 79.8 percent reported no reduction in daily wages resulting from the reduction in hours of labor. In 25 establishments the reduction in the daily wages was a smaller percent than the accompanying reduction in hours, while in only thirteen cases was the wage reduction proportional to or greater than the reduction in hours. In 42 establishments, or 10.6 percent, an increase in daily wages was made at the time of the reduction in hours of labor. This gives us a view of the situation preliminary to consideration of the effect of reduced hours on cost of production.
The analysis showed that out of 334 establishments which reported on the question of cost of manufacture 37, or 11.1 percent found no increase in cost of manufacture resulting from the reduction in hours, while 297, or 88.9 percent, found that cost of manufacture was increased. Out of those showing increase, 7 reported an increased cost under 3 percent; in 58 establishments the increase was under 10 percent, and in 110, ten percent or over. Of those reporting an increase of 10 per