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What Ever Happened to the Eight Hour Day?

By Arthur J Miller

Sometimes we do not realize that we are losing something until it is nearly gone. Something that we thought was a foundation of our society, something that we thought we had won long ago, something like the eight hour day.

More and more workers are finding themselves being forced to work longer and longer hours. And because of this we are finding out why the eight hour day was fought for many years ago. Over a hundred years ago the struggle for the eight hour day was a massive movement for working people. Because of that struggle the eight hour day became the standard working hours throughout industry.

This writing is not about statistics. It is hard to relate to statistics alone. For that reason this is a personalized account of forced overtime.

There are two basic reasons why we work overtime: 1. Because our employer demands it and we work it to keep our job. 2. Our wages have not kept up with the cost of living, so many of us have been forced to work overtime to be able to pay for those things we need.

But no matter how much we may make with overtime, we cannot buy back our lives and those things we have lost being slaves to continuous production. For when we work these long hours we have little time for anything else but to work, eat and sleep.

By giving up the eight hour day, we are not only dooming ourselves, but we are also dooming future generations. Because once we have lost the eight hour day, we will not regain it without another massive struggle.

This writing is based upon a shipyard job that I had where they were working us 14 hours a day, seven days a week for two and a half months.

GETTING UP FOR WORK

Sleep: a thing that if you do not get enough of because there just is not sufficient hours in a day, becomes one of the few pleasures of living. When working a 14 hour day, seven days a week, the only escape is found in sleep. You think about it all day long. You long for it. It becomes your greatest desire. And the greatest disappointment in your life is when your alarm wakes you from your slumber.

I am the type of person who must raise right up, dress myself and go off to work, if I give myself any time to think I'll talk myself into not going to work. Given the fact that you never seem to get enough rest when working such long hours, it does not take much for me to convince myself to go back to bed.

Most of my working life I have worked as a marine pipefitter in shipyards. The majority of the time I have had to drive long distances to get to work. Thus, my driving time must be included in the hours my jobs have taken away from my life. The overwhelming thought that is always on my mind is "why in the hell am I doing this?" And the answer is always the same. "Because I must."

Like many other working people in the trades, I am stuck in my trade. Once you have worked a trade for a number of years, employers do not like to give you a job outside of that trade. Even if you learn a new trade it is damn hard to find a job. I know for I have tried. Employers would rather give a job to someone younger than me.

The work that I am able to find in the shipyards in the last ten years has included massive amounts of overtime hours. This was not always the case, for when the industry was booming there was not so much overtime work. This may seem a little strange, but there are two reasons for this. First the shipyards are trying to maximize their profits by cutting labor cost, and it cost them less to work their workers long hours than it does to hire more workers. Second, it is hard to find skilled shipyard workers anymore.

While making my way to work I tend to think about all those things that I never have time to do. Half dazed, I arrive at work, punch in my time card and get ready for work.