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Susan Green

Post-War Planning a Farce Without —

The Thirty-Hour Week

(13 December 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 50, 13 December 1943, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

One could spend a whole week reading post-war plans and speeches full of good intentions about avoiding another apple-selling era and about providing jobs as the key to the post-war situation.

But one thing would strike the thoughtful worker as very strange indeed. One of the most obvious steps against unemployment is hardly even mentioned by any of the so-called planners.

What is more logical than to shorten the work week in order to create jobs for more workers?

It is easy to understand why capitalists and their backers are against shorter hours. The more hours workers put in for the same pay, the more profits are created for the capitalists with plenty to spare for their backers

But why do not labor leaders come out and say that the thirty-hour work week is on the agenda in any post-war plan worth its salt? If it is mentioned at all in labor circles, it is done softly, timidly, with an air of apology.

Thomas Speaks Out

A refreshing exception to this rule was a recent speech before the New York Women’s Trade Union League by R.J. Thomas, president of the United Automobile Workers, CIO. Talking on the question of post-war’ jobs for women, he said everything depends on the adoption of the thirty-hour week. This shortening of the work week, he said, would not only give the men and women who are now working from forty-eight to one hundred hours a week “a greater opportunity to enjoy life and improve their minds,” but would put “every able bodied man and woman who wants to work at their top skill.”

Mr. Thomas went to the heart of the question. But, of course, with the thirty-hour week must go the demand for undiminished wages in the post-war period and for a minimum wage commensurate with the great productivity of American labor. For without the wherewithal to live, workers cannot “enjoy life and improve their minds.”

Still another demand must go with the thirty-hour week. There is no sense in having a thirty-hour law on the books if it cannot be put into effect because the capitalist owners close down their factories. Workers must, therefore, realize the necessity to open idle plants and factories under their own control – in order to provide jobs and produce goods for consumption.

At the CIO Convention

But at least Mr. Thomas spoke up plainly and basically on the thirty-hour week issue. What is puzzling is this: Why didn’t Mr. Thomas, an important personage in the CIO, put up a fight for the adoption of the thirty-hour week at the CIO convention held a month ago?

There were plenty of opportunities to pose the shorter work week as an urgent need. For there came before the convention the question of jobs for women and for ex-service men as well as the whole post-war situation. But this logical measure was not even discussed.

The organized labor movement will have to take the lead in solving its problems – if they are to be solved at all. Peddling pretty phrases about the “four freedoms,” in imitation of capitalist demagogues, won’t do. What is required is a definite prospective of action and definite demands – with the thirty-hour week near the head of the list of post-war demands.

In his own inimitable fashion, President Green of the AFL touched on the question of the post-war work week the other day as he spoke before the Truman war production investigating committee. He very correctly complained that the Administration has “not kept its part of the no-strike agreement by adjusting wages to absorb increasing living costs.” Then he added: “We shall endeavor to restore equity by insisting that peacetime hours standards shall be established without reductions in earnings.”

Where Green Is Right and Wrong

Mr. Green is absolutely right that there should be no reduction in earnings when “peacetime hours standards shall be established.” But why, since the Administration has not kept its part of the no-strike agreement – which labor leaders had no business to make to begin with – should not Mr. Green urge higher pay for the workers in the AFL right now, as the CIO is already doing?

Certainly, with the capitalists making war profits this year totaling well over eight and a half billion dollars free and clear after deducting taxes and everything else, it is eminently fair to make them disgorge a little by paying higher wages – so that workers can keep up with the climbing cost of living.

Another thing. What does Green mean by “peacetime hours standards”? Is it the return to the forty-hour week that he wants? But that won’t do at all. The forty-hour week is washed up, as far as labor’s needs are concerned.

Much water has flowed under the bridge since the forty-hour law was passed: The productivity of labor has been increased enormously. In farm and agricultural industries the increase over the 1935–39 period was thirty-three and a third per cent. In war industries – which means modern industry as a whole – labor produces per hour from fifty to seventy-five per cent more than in 1935–39. In some industries, like aircraft, the jump in labor’s output is even greater.

If we settle on the very low figure of fifty per cent as the measure of labor’s increased productivity in both agriculture and manufacture over the 1935–39 period, then it follows that the amount of goods turned out then can now be had with one-half of the working force. In view of this situation, the thirty-hour week is a most reasonable demand if jobs are to be provided for America’s sixty million workers.

If organized labor does not take this step, it concedes to the capitalists all the benefits of industrial advancement and improved technology – and to the workers the miseries of unemployment. From labor’s point of view, labor-saving machinery and techniques must be translated into ever shorter working hours for the workers.

The solution of the unemployment problem is unattainable only for those who think in terms of capitalist profits and the perpetuation of capitalist power.

To those who think in terms of human needs and human rights, the solution is ready at hand. It includes not only the adequate shortening of the working week without reduction in pay, and not only the right of workers to open up factories closed down by the bosses.

Demands are in order for the peacetime expenditure for public benefit of the vast sums now wasted in destructive wars – as a means of providing employment and the good things of life.

In the final analysis, however, the profit-grubbing obstructionism by the capitalist class must be ended. The working people will be forced to take increasingly militant and revolutionary measures – and finally to oust the capitalists and establish a working class government and workers’ power. Therein lies peace, employment and plenty for all.

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