Reignite the Fight for

the 8-Hour Day
The fight for the 8-Hour Day has
historically been at the center of
the U.S. labor movement. In the
age of industrialization in the 19th
Century, bosses imposed work
schedules on laborers and forced
them to toil for 12, 14 or more
hours a day. Workers realized that,
by spending long hours to labor for
bosses, they gave away the wealth
they produced to bosses while they
themselves remained poor. And so, overtime work. The message: long
they started the movement to gain work hours are permissible as long
control of work hours. as they’re paid for. These reforms
The demand for a 10- or 8-hour distracted the labor movement to
workday spoke to the interest of fight for wage increases instead of
workers regardless of race, gen- the full value of their labor through
der, ethnicity, immigration status, controlling work hours. Since then,
employment status, skill and so on. workers have remained impove-
Therefore this demand was able rished despite various minimum
to unify and mobilize all working wage increases.
people. As a result, the fight for an
8-hour workday spread like wil- From Slavery to Emplo-
dfire. Hundreds of thousands of yer Sanctions, the Mo-
workers—miners, textile and saw- dern-Day Slave Law
mill workers, building tradesmen,
machinists, blacksmiths, shipbuil- For the roots of today’s epidemic
2014, Brooklyn (Photo by CSWA)
ders, gas men, store clerks, and levels of wage theft, the failure of
profit. On one level, bosses refused
federal workers—rallied or struck our government to enforce its own
to comply with various 8-hour laws
for the 8 hour workday; they also labor laws, and the super exploita-
being passed. On another level, the
took political action by forming la- tion of immigrant workers in this
State violently suppressed protests
bor parties and running candidates, country, we must look to our na-
and strikes for the 8-hour day by
with 10- or 8-hour days for workers tion’s history. During the post-Civil
using the police and even the Na-
as the central demand. The 8-Hour War era, when the white elite was
tional Guard, and prosecuted lead
Movement in the 19th century trying to transition away from
forged a U.S. working class cons- the slave-based economic system
But violence alone could only spark
ciousness of taking back control of towards a more capitalist system,
greater conflict. So at the same
their labor, and therefore their lives, laws were passed throughout the
time, the State applied reforms
so that they could truly be free. It Reconstruction South to force freed
such as the Fair Labor Standard
led to the birth of the International black slaves back on to the planta-
Act (FLSA) of 1938 to appease and
Workers’ Day on May 1, aka May tions. Any freed blacks who happe-
divert the labor movement. The
Day. ned to be unemployed were crimi-
FLSA sets the federal minimum
The movement met strong opposi- nalized, guaranteeing an underclass
wage, and requires bosses to pay
tion, since it shook the foundation to rebuild and maintain one of the
overtime wages for workers’ time
of the system the country was built largest agricultural economies in
over forty hours a week, but gi-
upon—the exploitation of labor for the world destroyed by the war. The
ves no right for workers to refuse
oligarchic plantation-owning class and long hours, with no rights. Pre- and other right-wingers clamor for
and its allies sought to replace its sident Trump’s recent immigration this, but liberals and Democrats are
former slave workforce with one crackdowns are less about depor- quick to call for the enforcement
coerced by State power into exploi- ting the 11+ million undocumen- of Employer Sanctions, repeating
tative contracts. ted and more about forcing immi- the racist cliché that “immigrants
Similarly, many of today’s indus- grant workers into the shadows, to do the work that no one else will
tries depend on an underclass of accept whatever exploitive working do.” Even immigrant rights groups
undocumented workers, crimina- conditions employers offer. Now and unions don’t dare to upset the
lized for working by the Employer that our country is in a later, more system by calling for the repeal of
Sanctions law (in reality an “Em- decadent stage of capitalism, the this modern-day slave law. Below is
ployee Sanctions law”). Under this system needs to criminalize undo- a look at how the system criminali-
law, undocumented workers scrape cumented immigrants in order to zed workers in the 1800’s and how it
to survive on sub-minimum wages sustain itself. Not only do Trump continues today.

THEN: The Black Codes andVagrancy NOW: The Immigration Reform and Con-
Laws trol Act’s Employer Sanctions Provision
WHEN: Post-Civil War Reconstruction era (1865
onward) WHEN: 1986 to present
WHAT: By law, black people, could be jailed for not WHAT: The Employer Sanctions provision makes it
working or for leaving the plantation, and subjected illegal for employers to knowingly hire undocumen-
to forced labor. They had no choice but to return to ted workers.
the plantation because the law prohibited them from WHO: Right-wing politicians, the Reagan Adminis-
renting or purchasing land and limited the type of tration, employers, Labor Unions and liberal politi-
work to field or servant work. If they had no proof cians.
of employment, they could be arrested and jailed. WHY: They argued that these laws were necessary
Signing a labor contract – even an unfair one - was to protect “American workers” from “illegal immi-
the only way to get out of jail. grants.” Both liberal and conservative politicians still
WHO: Southern plantation owners, the Union support this today. A N.Y. Times editorial recently
Army, the Freedmen’s Bureau, and Northern liberal argued for enforcement of Employer Sanctions.
politicians. But actually, the Employer Sanctions provision
WHY: They passed these laws to force blacks to re- enables employers to pit undocumented workers
turn to the plantation work they had done as slaves, against documented workers. Employers refuse to
protect jobs for whites, and ensure success of the hire workers who have papers unless they are wi-
new, post-emancipation economy. lling to accept the same—or nominally better--con-
But actually, the Black Codes and vagrancy laws ditions as the undocumented workers. When undo-
forced black workers back into slavery to under- cumented workers try to organize with documented
cut white workers for the benefit of the plantation coworkers to fight for their rights, employers sud-
owners. They worked all day and non-payment was denly ask to see their papers. We now have rampant
widespread. They were compelled to sign contracts wage theft. Without repealing Employer Sanctions
to avoid prison labor or “convict leasing.” With no it’s impossible to change these conditions.
rights, the brutal conditions of the plantation were
difficult to challenge.

It’s Time to Fight! do this is to repeal Employer Sanc- work. The right to a 40-hour wor-
tions and gain Equal Rights for all kweek means workers are healthier
8 Hour Day! 40 Hour Week! Equal
working people. Workers from all and happier. It also means as a who-
Rights for All Workers! Repeal
industries and in each region of the le, workers’ income will rise and the
Employer Sanctions! US, across immigration status, are disparity of wealth between rich and
It’s time for workers to bring back working 60, 80-hour weeks whi- poor will decrease.
the demand to the right to a 40- le others struggle to find full-time ...continued on page 4
hour workweek and the only way to
Past organizing attempts have exemplified Employer Sanctions’ effectiveness
in controlling groups of workers. At Flor de Mayo, a New York City restaurant,
Chinese delivery drivers with papers earned $25/day and were told the door
was open if they didn’t like the pay. Mexican bike delivery workers earned $15/
day working 12 hours, and were told the Chinese got more money because
they had papers. If they didn’t like it, the boss told them he could find others
who’d work. When the Mexican delivery workers organized for stolen wages
and to improve conditions, the boss asked for documentation, all the while
continuing to employ other undocumented workers.

Photo by NMASS. 2008 May Day
Examples of citizen workers figh- court victories one after another.
ting for the right to 40 hours: In both of these examples, it’s easy kers. For the 8-hour day to become
In Kearny, NJ, workers employed to assume that the workers forced to a national reality for all workers, we
at a plastics factory, Pactiv, got to- endure such debilitating conditions must radically unite working people
gether to fight for better conditions are undocumented but no! They all in this country by repealing Emplo-
and join a union. The company re- have papers. Employer Sanctions yer Sanctions. If workers are divided
taliated by laying off 60% of the staff doesn’t just hurt undocumented between demands for higher wages
while forcing the remaining workers workers, the long hours and low or for some, while others call for am-
to work more shifts and increase the no wages that are the norm for undo- nesty, we will not have a united wor-
work load so the company could cumented workers are now affecting kers’ movement.
produce as much as before. Wor- more and more documented wor-
kers didn’t have the right to say no Editorial: What do we
to the overtime. At first they made do now??
a lot more money from all the over-
time work, but soon, many of them The ruling class’s reform to save the
developed debilitating injuries and system led to the formation of a “mi-
had no choice but to take sick leave ddle class” and divided the working
or quit. As a group, the workers’ ear- class. But after the Obama adminis-
nings sank and the company’s profit tration, even the “middle class” is
soared. The workers who were laid shrinking. With Donald Trump in
off and those who remained were office, working people are under a
able to unite to demand the right to new round of attack. Trump and the
say no to mandatory overtime and media he manipulates are working
the right for all the workers to have hand in hand trying to shift people’s
a 40-hour workweek. attention to war, away from issues
All throughout NYC, employees of that help keep the system of exploi-
the Chinese-American Planning Home attendants in New York State
are joining forces with women’s
tation intact.
Council Home Attendant Program But reformist tricks have lost their
rights activists to change the laws
(CPC) are forced to work 24-hour magic, and masses of people are
around forced overtime! Women
shifts up to 7 days a week. If they re- waking up to see themselves on
workers around the state are calling
fuse, CPC retaliates with a reduced for a new bill that would protect the same sinking boat. It’s time for
schedule or by assigning difficult workers in the home attendant working people to put together a
cases. To add insult to injury, the industry who dare to say no to platform of real issues, and form a
agency only pays them 13 out of 24 overtime hours. This bill guarantees political party to advance working
hours. At the end of the day the wor- a 40-hour workweek for all home people’s interest as a class. Let’s
kers’ pay is far below the minimum attendants and paves the way for break the chains that keep us down!
wage. Home attendants are coming other workers in other industries to
together to fight against wage theft propose their own bill.
and mandatory overtime, winning