1st of May: Remember the 8-hour Work-day Struggle

Posted by Sinapan Samydorai under Labour Watch on 26 April 2002

INTERNATIONAL WORKER'S DAY: 1886 - 2002 On 1st May, we commemorate the priceless achievement of the 8-hour work-day and the struggle for decent work and wages. It is 116 years since the Chicago workers paid with their lives for this victory of the working-class. Why are workers working long-hours in wealthy singapore? Why is unemployment about 5 percent in Singapore? Is it possible to have a 40-hour work-week, equal pay for equal work without discrimination? Think Centre's Mayday message will answer this questions soon!

The 8-hour workday movement, culminating in the strike on May First, 1886, forms a historical chapter in the struggle of the working class.

In 1886, striking workers sang the "Eight-Hour Song':

We mean to make things over,
We're tired of toil for naught.
But bare enough to live on,
Never an hour for thought.
We want to feel the sunshine;
we want to smell the flowers;
we're sure that God has willed it,
and we mean to have eight hours.

We're summoning our forces from
shipyard, shop, and mill;

Workers have rights:

Workers have the right for the 8-hour work-day. The 8-hour work-day recognizes the worker as a person with various needs. It upholds the right to a decent and balanced life based on eight hours of work, eight hours to rest and eight hours for themselves.

Eight-hours for work. The 8-hour work-day recognizes the limited physical capacity of the worker. Eight-hours for rest. The worker needs sufficient sleep to recuperate for each day.Eight hours for themselves. The workers needs time for:

the education of their children and their family life;

self improvement and upgrading skills; spiritual needs.

The worker needs time to participate in activitives which integrate them into their family, the community and the civil society. The 8-hour work-day recognizes the workers right and responsibility to work and to contribute their share to the development of the economic, political, cultural and social aspects of the community.

Historical Background:

England, women and children were granted the ten-hour day in 1847.

French workers won the 12-hour day after the February revolution of 1848.

USA the average work day had dropped from 12 hours to 11 hours from 1830 to 1860

USA, Philadelphia, the National Laborer after winning the ten-hour day in 1836 declared: "We have no desire to perpetuate the ten-hour system, for we believe that eight hours' daily labor is more than enough for any man to perform."

Fruits of their labour:

Workers' organisations, employers and governments the world over have accepted the wisdom of the 8-hour work-day and have given their approval in international conventions eg. the Hours of Work (Industry) Convention of 1919. In some countries, workers are enjoying an even shorter work-day without any reduction in pay. The shortening of the work-day is but one necessary step towards sharing with workers the fruits of their labour and of technological progress.

Globalization and Long-hours of work:

We view with deep concern the trend towards longer working hours:

increasing overtime work to meet production schedules;

workers resort to overtime or part-time work in addition to their regular work for survival.

We are concerned that the 8-hour work-day is in fact being eroded. The pressure to work longer hours stems from employer's policies but is deeply rooted in low wages. In order to support themselves and their families, workers compete to accept longer hours and overtime work. We denounce the trend towards longer hours of work and any system which puts pressure on workers to accept longer hours of work. We denounce any system which undermines the purpose and spirit of the 8-hour work-day.

The Government, employers and trade unions, all civic and social organization and indeed all citizens should uphold and protect workers' right to a work-day of 8-hours or less. We urge the government, employers and trade unions to ensure that wages are of a sufficient level so that workers are not compelled by low wages to work longer hours for survival. We encourage more flexible hours of work, but insists that this means shorter working hours in favour of the workers, especially working mothers and older workers.

We urge the government, employer and trade union to recognize and implement the 1998 International Labour Organisation's Declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work which includes:

(a) freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;

(b) the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour;

(c) the effective abolition of child labour; and

(d) the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

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