THE WORKING DAY: struggle for a normal working day; repercussion of the English Factory Acts on other countries
. . . The history of the regulation of the working day in certain branches of production, and the struggle to enforce regulation which is still going on in others, prove conclusively that the isolated worker, one who "freely" sells his labor power, is hopelessly unable to offer any resistance to the encroachments of capital when capitalist production has reached a certain stage of maturity. The establishment of a normal working day is, therefore, the outcome of a protracted civil war, more or less veiled, between the capitalist class and the working class.
Since this struggle begins in the domain of modern industry, it first manifests itself in the birthplace of that industry, in England. The English factory workers have been the champions, not only of the English working class, but of the modern working class in general, just as their theoreticians were the first to challenge the theory of capital. Ure, the philosopher of the factory system, therefore tells us that it is an everlasting disgrace to the British working class that it inscribed upon its banners "the slavery of the Factory Acts," as contrasted with the capitalists, who manfully strove on behalf of the "perfect freedom of labor" . . . .In the United States of America any sort of independent labor movement was paralyzed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the republic. Labor with a white skin cannot emancipate itself where labor with a black skin is branded.
But out of the death of slavery a new and vigorous life sprang. The first fruit of the Civil War was an agitation for the 8-hour day -- a movement which ran with express speed from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from New England to California. At the general convention of the National Labor Union, held at Baltimore, it was declared on August 16, 1866: "The first and great necessity of the present, to free the labor of this country from capitalistic slavery, is the passing of a law by which 8 hours shall be the normal working day in all States of the American Union. We are resolved to put forth all our strength until this glorious result is attained."
At the same time the Geneva congress of the International Workingmen's Association, in conformity with a proposal made by the General Council, resolved that "a limitation of the working day is a preliminary condition without which all further attempts at improvement or emancipation must prove abortive. . . . The congress proposes eight hours as the legal limit of the working day."
Thus on both sides of the Atlantic did the working class movement, a spontaneous outgrowth of the conditions of production, endorse the words of Factory Inspector G. J. Saunders: "Further steps towards a reformation of society can never be carried out with any hope of success, unless the hours of labor be limited and the prescribed limit strictly enforced."
We must admit that our worker comes out of the process of production in a different guise from that in which he entered it. He went into the market as the owner of the commodity "labor power," to confront there the owners of other commodities; he was one commodity owner facing another commodity owner. The contract in accordance with which he sold his labor power to the capitalist averred, so to say, in black and white, that he had the free disposal of himself. But when the bargain has been struck, it is discovered that he is "not a free agent," that the time for which he is free to sell his labor power is the time for which he is forced to sell it, that in fact the creature sucking his blood will not loose its hold "so long as there is a muscle, a nerve, a drop of blood to be exploited."
For protection against the worm gnawing at their vitals, the workers must put their heads together, and must as a class compel the passing of a law, the erection of an all-powerful social barrier, which will forbid even the workers themselves from entering into a free contract with capital when by the terms of that contract they and their class are condemned to death or sold into slavery. In place of the pompous catalogue of the "inalienable rights of man," they put forward the modest Magna Charta of a legally limited working day -- a charter which shall at length make it clear when the time "which the worker sells is ended, and when his own begins." What a change in the picture!