Parsons on the 8 hour Day

Albert R. Parsons, Haymarket Martyr and anarchist on the movement for an eight-hour working day in March, 1886.

Submitted by libcom on July 24, 2005

A. R. Parsons, the Anarchist, said:

"The labor question is up for settlement. It demands and commands a hearing. The existing disorders threaten not only the peace, but the destruction of society itself. The movement to reduce the work hours is intended by its projectors to give a peaceful solution to the difficulties between capitalists and laborers. I have always held that there were two ways to settle this trouble - either by peaceable or violent methods. Reduced hours - or eight hours - is a peace-offering. It is for capitalists to give or laborers to take. I hold that capitalists will not give eight hours. Why? Because the rate of wages in every wage-paying country is regulated by what it takes to live on; in other words, it is subsistence wages. This subsistence wage is what political economists call the 'iron law of wages,' because it is unvarying and inviolable. How does this law operate? In this way: A laborer is hired to do a day's work. In the first two hours labor of the ten he reproduces the equivalent of his wage; the other eight hours is what the employer gets and gets for nothing. Hence the laborer, as the statistics of the census of 1880 show, does ten hours work for two hours pay. Now, reduced hours, or eight hours, means that the profit monger is to get only six hours instead of, as now, eight hours for nothing. For this reason employers of labor will not voluntarily concede the reduction.

On the other hand, fewer hours means more pay. Capitalists and laborers know this. Reduced hours is the only measure of economic reform which consults the interests of laborers as consumers. Now, this means a higher standard of living for the producers, which can only be acquired by their possessing and consuming a larger share of their own product. This would diminish the surplus or profits of the labor exploiters. Labor can therefore, for this reason, get only what it can take. Can labor force capital to reduce the work-hours? How can it?

The legalized possession and control of capital puts the wage- worker or propertyless class at their mercy. Capitalists can deprive labor of its bread by lock-outs and discharges. The laborer is forced to yield or perish. If he becomes disorderly he is suppressed by the militia and police. The last resort is force. The servitude of labor to capital is now and always has been maintained by force. If the labor organizations arm and force the concession of eight hours from employers, then the employing class will have to pay as much for eight hours work as they now do for ten. Employers will put labor-saving machinery to work instead of these high-priced laborers. The laborers will then, for the same reason that they reduced the hours to eight, have to reduce them to six hours per day. A voluntary reduction of the work hours is a peaceful solution of the labor problem, by which no disarrangement or confusion would occur. Wages in this way will increase until they represent the earnings, instead of, as now, the necessities, of the wage laborer. This would result in making every laborer a capitalist and every capitalist a laborer; a system of universal co-operative production and distribution. Reduced hours would melt the wages or profit system out of existence and usher in the co- operative or free-labor system.

I do not believe that capital will quietly or peaceably permit the economic emancipation of their wage-slaves. It is against all the teachings of history and human nature for men to voluntarily yield up usurped or arbitrary power. The capitalists of the world will for this reason force the workers into armed revolution. Socialists point out this fact and warn the workingmen to prepare for the inevitable."