Dear Friends, HAPPY LABOR DAY!
Not everybody knows that the eight-hour day movement forms part of the early history for the celebration of the Labour Day in may in many nations and cultures. Also known as the short-time movement, it was started by James Deb and had its origins in the Industrial Revolution in Britain, where the use of child labour was common, and the working day could range from 10 to 16 hours for six days a week.
Robert Owen had raised the demand for a ten-hour day in 1810, and instituted it in his socialist enterprise at New Lanark. By 1817 he had formulated the goal of the eight-hour day and coined the slogan: “Eight hours’ labour, Eight hours’ recreation, Eight hours’ rest”. Women and children in England were granted the ten-hour day in 1847. French workers won the 12-hour day after the February revolution of 1848. The International Workingmen’s Association took up the demand for an eight-hour day at its convention in Geneva in August 1866, declaring “The legal limitation of the working day is a preliminary condition without which all further attempts at improvements and emancipation of the working class must prove abortive“, and as a result the Congress proposes eight hours as the legal limit of the working day.
Labor Day is celebrated in Italy – like in many other countries around the world – on 1st may, because of what happened in Chicago in 1886 at this time of the year. Albert Parsons, head of the Chicago Knights of Labor, with his wife Lucy Parsons and two children, led 80.000 people down Michigan Avenue, Chicago, in what is regarded as the first modern May Day Parade, in support of the eight-hour day. In the next few days they were joined nationwide by 350.000 workers who went on strike at 1.200 factories, including 70.000 in Chicago, 45.000 in New York, 32.000 in Cincinnati, and additional thousands in other cities.
Some workers accepted pay cuts to compensate working time reductions, others managed to obtain what requested. In the subsequent days a huge strike took place at the McCormick plant in Chicago (3rd may) after the speech by August Spies, editor of the Arbeiter-Zeitung (Workers Newspaper), addressing 6,000 workers. The police opened fire and killed four people, wounding many more. The day after (4th may) a bomb exploded at the Haymarket Square, likely by a provocateur working for one of Chicago’s industrial titans. The police fired into the crowd of workers in retaliation, killing dozens. The prominent labour leaders were arrested and executed, giving the movement its first martyrs. Two years later, the American Federation of Labor set may 1st 1890 as the day that American workers should work no more than eight hours. The International Workingmen’s Association (Second International), meeting in Paris in 1889, endorsed the date for international demonstrations, thus starting the international tradition of May-Day.
In Italy Labor Day is held on 1st may since 1891. The holiday was cancelled during fascism, restored in 1945 and got its martyrs with the Portella della Ginestra massacre. 11people were killed, including 4 children, and 33 wounded during May Day celebrations in Sicily on may 1st 1947, when two thousand people – mostly farmers – demonstrated against landlordism at Portella della Ginestra.
The massacre took place twelve days after a surprise victory by the People’s Block – a coalition of the Italian Communist Party and the Italian Socialist Party in the elections for the Constituent Assembly of the autonomous region of Sicily – against the Christian Democrat Party. With national elections set for October 1947, this event made many fear that a coalition led by Palmiro Togliatti could bring Italy under Communist rule. In an open letter a local bandit and separatist, Salvatore Giuliano, took sole responsibility claiming that he had only wanted his men to scare the crowd with a few blanks and the murders had been a mistake, but still some historians see the massacre as a result of the Mafia conspiracy backed by Christian-Democrats against the Communist party.
It is worthy of note that in Italy the 8-hours working day was dictated by Royal Decree-Law nr 692 on 15 March 1923. This remained for years the only point of reference for the art. 36 of the Italian constitution, which does not specify the max duration of the working day. Only in 2003 it was revised with the legislative Decree nr 66 implementing the CE Dir. 93/104 and 200/34, that does not say the max daily working time but sets at 40 working hour the standard weekly schedule with at least 11 hours of rest every 24 hours and one day of total rest per week, thus making implicit that a working performance can’t exceed 13 hours per day.
It may sound as an outdated topic, but even now in the 21st century, the definition of a working time policy is a hot issue on the agenda of many countries, especially with the advent of the technological advancements enabling teleworking and contributing to the creation of the so called “24-hours” society, where line between work and non-work time is becoming increasingly blurred.
Recent studies and researches conducted on the topic of duration and productivity of the working performance and country policies on this respect have proved that 9 out of 10 European countries with the fewest average hours worked are the wealthiest countries in the OECD, which generally represents the more developed nations. Summarizing the key factors of the wealth of these nations, gross domestic product per capita is high, wages are extremely high, and technological sophistication of the industry plays a large part in the structure of the employment of these countries, coupled with low unemployment rates and a significant shift away from standard working week toward non-standard work schedules, such as part-time work, compressed workweeks, weekend work, on-call work, etc.
The richest OECD countries where people work least were in 2011 Germany, Netherlands, France, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, Finland, UK… >>>Read more
Surveys and studies investigating the relationship between productivity and working time arrangements have proven that the length of working hours affects unit productivity and enterprise performance; that shorter hours are associated with higher output rates per hour; that flexible and part-time working time arrangements enhance individual or organizational productivity, because they optimize the hidden costs associated with job dissatisfaction and human capital investment, such as absenteeism, low morale and motivation. Generally speaking, organizations implementing work–life balance practices are wealthier than others.
This is the reason why this year in occasion of the Labor Day our newsletter contains the cameo portrait of an outstanding representative of the Made in Italy entrepreneurship, Mr Adriano Olivetti, who almost 120 years after Robert Owen, implemented in Ivrea (Piedmont) an industrial model beyond socialism and capitalism pivoted on the cardinal principle that workers’ health creates company’s wealth. Adriano decreased the hours of work, reorganized the production system into departments and divisions, shared with his workers the productivity gains by increasing salaries, fringe benefits and services, and supervised a housing plan for the workers at Ivrea and a zoning proposal for the adjacent Aosta Valley. By 1957 his workers were the best paid and the most productive in the Italian metallurgical industry and they accepted a company union not tied to the powerful national metallurgical trade unions. As a result iconizing the relationship between increased productivity, creativity and illuminated management practices, ten years before the Silicon Valley boys, Olivetti revolutionized the IT sector by producing in 1965 the first personal computer in the world, a portable calculator 35,5 kg ideal to fit a minimum space on the desktops of the 1960 offices.