Work Without End

Work Without End: Abandoning Shorter Hours for the Right to Work

Copyright Date: 1988
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 416
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    Work Without End
    Book Description:

    "An extraordinarily informative scholarly history of the debate over working hours from 1920 to 1940." --New York Times Book Review For more than a century preceding the Great Depression, work hours were steadily reduced. Intellectuals, labor leaders, politicians, and workers saw this reduction in work as authentic progress and the resulting increase in leisure time as a cultural advance. Benjamin Hunnicutt examines the period from 1920 to 1940 during which the shorter hour movement ended and the drive for economic expansion through increased work took over. He traces the political, intellectual, and social dialogues that changed the American concept of progress from dreams of more leisure in which to pursue the higher things in life to an obsession with the importance of work and wage-earning. During the 1920s with the development of advertising, the "gospel of consumption" began to replace the goal of leisure time with a list of things to buy. Business, which increasingly viewed shorter hours as a threat to economic growth, persuaded the worker that more work brought more tangible rewards. The Great Depression shook the newly proclaimed gospel as well as everyone's faith in progress. Although work-sharing became a temporary solution to the shortage of jobs and massive unemployment, when faced with legislation that would limit the work week to thirty hours, Roosevelt and his New Deal advisors adopted the gospel of consumption's tests for progress and created more work by government action. The New Deal campaigned for the right to work a full time job--and won. "Work Without End presents a compelling history of the rise and fall of the 40-hour work week, explains bow Americans became trapped in a prison of work that allows little room for family, bobbies or civic participation and suggests bow they can free themselves from relentless overwork. [This book] is a sober reconsideration of a topic that is critical to America's future. It suggests that progress doesn't mean much if there is not time for love as well as work, and liberation is an empty achievement if the work it frees one to do is truly without end." --The Washington Post "Hunnicutt, with this excellent book, becomes the first United States historian to examine fully why this momentous change occurred." --The Journal of American History "Hunnicutt's achievement is to ask the questions, and to provide the first extended answer which takes in the full array of economic, social, and political forces behind the ‘end of shorter hours' in the crucial first half of the twentieth century." --Journal of Economic History "This thoroughly documented history [is] a valuable book well worth reading." --Libertarian Labor Review "This is an important book in the emerging debate about alternatives to full employment. Hunnicutt is a skilled historian who is on to an important issue, writes well, and can bring many different kinds of historical sources to bear on the problem." --Fred Block, University of Pennsylvania "Work Without End is a disturbing but impressive indictment of both big business and the New Deal program of Franklin D. Roosevelt.... Hunnicutt presents an unusual but persuasive description of a successful conspiracy to deprive American workers of their vision of a shorter-hours work week and the individual and societal liberation which would flow from it." --Labor Studies Journal

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0699-6
    Subjects: Business, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-8)

    Shorter hours of labor were an important part of American history for over a century before World War II. Beginning in the early years of the industrial revolution, the shorter-hour process continued slowly but steadily until the turn of the century, at which time it accelerated rapidly. During the two decades after 1900, working hours fell sharply from just under 60 hours a week to just under 50. During the 1920S, the process slowed, but accelerated again during the Great Depression as weekly hours fell below 35.¹

    Moreover, shorter hours became a vital issue in the formation of the labor...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Century of Shorter Hours and Work Reduction
    (pp. 9-36)

    Of the many nineteenth-century industrial causes, crusades, and reforms, shorter hours of labor emerged as the issue of the working classes. At the start of the industrial process, workers were concerned about the portion of their lives and energy taken by their jobs and resisted the imposition of new forms of work discipline such as strict scheduling and long hours. This resistance took the forms of absenteeism, irregular work habits, and celebration of a long list of traditional holidays and special occasions, all of which plagued industrial managers. But as industrialization and the supporting social order were able to achieve...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The New Economic Gospel of Consumption
    (pp. 37-66)

    The twenties opened with a depression. Lasting almost two years, this downturn raised questions about the future of American economic growth and the place of work in the new industrial state.

    In 1922 Garet Garrett pointed out that “American business is despairing at overproduction,” believing that “we are equipped to produce more of the goods that satisfy human wants than we can use.” John Hobson wrote that “experienced businessmen all over the world realize that the market does not expand rapidly enough to keep up with demand” and that American business, and industry in particular, “testifies by quite undersigned coincidence...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Leisure for Labor
    (pp. 67-108)

    At the same time that businessmen and economists were reaffirming their belief in steady work and industrial growth, elevating these tenets to the center of discussions of social progress and individual welfare, and looking to increased “optional consumption” to undergird them, labor spokesmen, religious leaders, reformers, intellectuals, educators, and social critics were turning to a more traditional solution to unemployment. Sharing the widespread pessimism about “saturated” demand and limited markets in the early 1920S, these groups promoted labor’s alternative solution to general overproduction: shorter work hours.

    From 1920 to 1925, the “shorter hour cure for overproduction and unemployment” (what came...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Leisure for Culture and Progress
    (pp. 109-146)

    In addition to labor leaders and reformers, several professional groups began to be concerned with leisure and the shorter-hour issue. One of the main organizations involved with these topics was the National Recreation Association.

    The recreation movement began during the 1890S as one of many social welfare movements of the Progressive era. In response to urban problems of overcrowding, immigration, and juvenile delinquency, recreation leaders promoted playgrounds as an urban reform as basic as sanitation, fire protection, and efficient government. They reasoned that through public recreation facilities, immigrant children could be “Americanized,” juvenile misbehavior controlled, and the natural childhood desire...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Shorter Hours in the Early Depression
    (pp. 147-158)

    With the onset of the Great Depression, shorter hours became more than a topic for public debate. It took center stage as a political issue for most of the 1930s. The different opinions expressed in the 1920S about the social and economic potentials of increased leisure, on the one hand, and the benefits of the new economic gospel of consumption and the need to create jobs, on the other, became political positions and surrounded concrete proposals such as the Black–Perkins bill and key components of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. What had been a cultural dialogue became a political contest....

  10. CHAPTER 6 FDR Counters Shorter Hours
    (pp. 159-190)

    There was surprise and some consternation within the administration at the vehement opposition to shorter-hour legislation. Raymond Moley remembered that “the Perkins substitute proved almost as great a shock to employers as the Black bill itself. Perkins and FDR were aghast at the commotion it caused.”¹

    Understandably, Roosevelt and his advisers had misjudged the political opposition to the Black–Connery bills. Roosevelt had made attempts to deal with the issue earlier and to lay the groundwork for legislated shorter hours. For example, at Perkins’s and Felix Frank-furter’s prompting, he had tried to get individual states to pass laws limiting hours...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Idleness Reemployed: Public Works and Deficit Spending
    (pp. 191-208)

    The new deal’s commitment to guarantee the “right to work” took definite form in 1934 and 1935. Policies were put in place that Roosevelt used to oppose 30 hours in the political arena and offer his positive alternative in the battle against unemployment: work creation.

    From the start, the nira included provisions for public works, funded at $3.3 billion. Hugh Johnson viewed the Public Works Administration (pwa) as a vital part of the nra, and would have used the pwa to promote hirings and stimulate business activity immediately, spending as rapidly as possible to speed recovery. Johnson, more than any...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Social Security and the Fair Labor Standards Act
    (pp. 209-250)

    In several important respects, the development of the “omnibus” Social Security bill, passed in August 1935, influenced and was influenced by the share-the-work movement and the Black–Connery bills. Many early supporters of government retirement and unemployment compensation measures agreed with 30-hour advocates that technological overproduction was chronic and that the resulting unemployment could be remedied through reducing the supply of work, both by shortening the worklife and shortening the workweek. But this commonality was two-edged. In the first years of the Roosevelt administration, a partial coalition was formed by the two groups. But the partnership was replaced by rivalry...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Intellectuals and Reformers Abandon Shorter Hours
    (pp. 251-266)

    Just as the 30-hour bill seemed about to be passed by Congress in 1933, Rexford Tugwell publishedThe Industrial Discipline and the Governmental Arts. This work, more than any other single document, presented what was to become the administration’s position on work creation vis-à-vis work reduction. As such, it stands as representative of a view of government’s role in progress and reform shared increasingly by intellectuals and reformers as the depression wore on.

    Tugwell devoted his book to challenging the idea that reductions of work were necessary or desirable in the depression and detailing specific policy alternatives that were to...

  14. CHAPTER 10 A Case in Point: Scientists
    (pp. 267-300)

    Of the many groups affected by the depression, American engineers and scientists (in traditional areas such as the natural and physical sciences and the mechanical arts) were particularly hard hit. Unemployment was as much a threat to them as to everyone else. What was unusual was the challenge that technological unemployment presented to their role in society and their contribution to progress. For generations, scientists and inventors understood technology as the application of science to human life in order to relieve human burdens: easing work and meeting material needs. For decades, they had justified their place in society by pointing...

  15. CHAPTER 11 The Age of Work
    (pp. 301-316)

    One foreign observer of the American scene during the depression was H. G. Wells. Announcing that he would make a movie depicting life in the year 2054, Wells arrived in the United States in mid-1934 at the height of the shorter-hour agitation, when Roosevelt was making overtures to labor and the technocrats were still popular. Wells dined at the White House, observed the political scene, and set to work on two movies that were completed in 1936 and 1937.¹

    Things to ComeandThe Man Who Could Work Miracleswere released to lukewarm reception in the United States but have...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 317-390)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 391-404)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 405-405)