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The Black Thirty Hour Work Week Bill
72d Congress, 2d Session: S.5267, passed 53-30 by US Senate April 6, 1933
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          “In [the fall of 1932, the American Federation of Labor (AFL)] drafted a bill that limited hours per week to 30. The AFL had considered a constitutional amendment for the regulation of hours in their November convention, but settled on legislation suggested to the organization by such groups as the National Citizens' League for Industrial Recovery and the National Grange. In December [1932, conservative Senator] Hugo Black [D, Ala.] introduced the AFL bill to the 72nd Congress, to prohibit, in interstate or foreign commerce, all goods produced by establishments where workers were employed more than five days a week or 6 hours a day.
          “Several affiliated unions had argued that provisions for a minimum wage should be included in the bill. The AFL, however, concluded that such a piece of legislation would have less political support and would almost certainly be ruled unconstitutional. Moreover, most labor leaders opposed minimum-wage provisions, reasoning that a minimum wage could easily become a maximum wage. [Editorial comment: this is exactly what has happened for unskilled workers.]
          “The best course of action would be to enforce a nationwide reduction in the supply of labor. This would bring immediate 'work relief.' Then, as more people were put back to work at 30 hours, [they would be earning money,] purchasing power would expand..\..buyer confidence would return...and the economy would recover. Once the economy improved, labor could bargain effectively for higher wages [from a strong position of] labor scarcity....”   (From Ben Hunnicutt's *Work Without End, Temple Univ. Press, 1988, page 150).
          The bill passed the U.S. Senate on April 6, 1933 by a vote of 53-30, but was blocked in the House (a 1934 version below).

          What happened to the Black Bill?  FDR took one look at it and essentially said (A) It's not mine!   (B) It's SOCIALISM! - and proceeded to tie it up in committee of the House, whence it emerged five years later as the Fair Labor Standards Act with all its 30-hour teeth pulled (see our 40/40/40 page and/or overview). Meanwhile, Saint FDR initiated more socialist government regulations and programs than you could shake a stick at, from social security to workmen's compensation to minimum wage to unemployment insurance to a whole alphabet soup of makework campaigns (WPA, CCC, NRA, NIRA, TVA...),

In other words, the War ended the Depression - the New Deal was just a sugar pill.  The year 1933 presented a Great Fork in the Road and we blew it.  Thanks to FDR, we made the wrong choice - FDR admitted as much in 1935 (see Jeremy Rifkin's End of Work, p.29).  This was the biggest mistake of the century, because it meant that human beings still actually needed war to solve their biggest problem, the overwhelming centripetal, center-seeking, concentrating force on ... money.
          At least we got one thing right after the War.  We didn't shove our enemies' faces into the mud with vengeful economy-breaking indemnities (nation-level fines) as we did after World War I to Kaiser's starving Germany, thus guaranteeing another round.  After WW2, we helped the Germans, and the Japanese, and for a time, our aid programs, coupled with the GI Bill and the Federal Highways Program even created enough artificial jobs to keep our economy afloat, especially after the War's massive killing and maiming of the huge American labor surplus of the late '20s and the Depression.
          Yet the massive government micromanagement of the New Deal has been with us ever since, straining ineffectually to mount enough makework to achieve full employment, and the workweek maximum has stuck at its 1940 level of 40 hours a week (and even that isn't enforced).   And once the babyboomers hit the job market around 1970, forcing housewives in as well to prop household income, real wages went and stayed flat. The record-breaking automation of the '80s and immigration of the '90s made things worse. If we'd introduce this single, effective, balancing regulation at the center of our economy, we could dismantle the by-now thousands of ineffectual regulations, policies and programs positioned everywhere but the center. The "everywhere but" approach has had a 69 years' trial. Today, with the longest workweeks in the world (see 7/08/2001, item 3), the shortest vacations, flat wages, and record homelessness and incarceration, it's time to try the approach we condemned without trial 69 years ago. Timesizing.


A 1934 Version of the Black Bill
from the University of Michigan Document Collection
(tip of the hat to Tom '*Sandwichman' Walker) -

A BILL To prevent the shipment in interstate commerce of certain articles and commodities, in connection with which persons are employed more than five days per week or six hours per day, and prescribing certain conditions with respect to purchases and loans by the United States, and codes, agreements, and licenses under the National Industrial Recovery Act [NIRA].

Whereas interstate commerce among the people of the various States has been and is now burdened, hampered, and clogged by a patent and continued idleness of workers as well as the mechanical appliances and implements of production; and

Whereas this continued idleness of men and machines has necessarily resulted in imposing the burden of feeding and supporting more than eighteen million people upon that part of our people who do work and produce, which condition is unjust to those who work and those who cannot obtain work; and

Whereas interstate commerce and trade can best be revived, and the comfort and happiness of the people can best be produced by an economic readjustment that supplies people jobs with wages, rather than charity without jobs; and

Whereas under our economic system production is stifled when purchasers with ability to buy are lacking, and is stimulated to action by purchasers with money; and

Whereas our private productive system is dependent for its own customers chiefly upon its own employees, who cannot buy the output of the system unless producers give them jobs at wages adequate to exchange for the products; and Whereas private business has not been able, and is not now able, to give jobs to those who need them, on past or existing hours of labor; and

Whereas business chaos, bankruptcies, insolvencies, misery, destitution, and want have resulted, and the American people have been deprived of the incalculable advantages and benefits of the abundance of goods, commodities, and services idle machines and idle people could have produced if put to work: Now, therefore, in order to provide a fairer and more nearly balanced income; to put idle machines and people to work; to increase the purchasing power of the people and thereby stimulate production to capacity; to revive languishing commerce and trade; and to promote the happiness and comfort of the people.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,/ That no article or commodity shall be shipped, transported, or delivered in interstate or foreign commerce, which was produced or manufactured in any mine, quarry, mill, cannery, workshop, factory, or manufacturing establishment situated in the United States, in which any person, except officers, executives, and superintendents, and their personal and immediate clerical assistants, was employed more than five days in any week or more than six hours in any day: Provided, That upon the submission of satisfactory proof of the existence of special conditions in any industry included herein, making it necessary for certain persons to be employed more than five days in any week or more than six hours in any day, the Secretary of Labor, or his duly selected representatives, may issue exemption permits with respect to such persons, relieving the employer from the provisions of this Act with reference to such persons.

SEC. 2. (a) No article or commodity shall be purchased by the United States, or any department or organization thereof, from any business enterprise operating contrary to any provision of this Act, or if such article or commodity was produced or manufactured in any mine, quarry, mill, cannery, workshop, factory, or manufacturing establishment situated in the United States, in which any person, except officers, executives, and superintendents, and their personal and immediate clerical assistants, was employed, after the date this Act takes effect, more than five days in any week or more than six hours in any day. (b) Each contract made with a contractor for any public work shall contain a provision that the contractor will buy no article or commodity to use on or in any public work from any business enterprise violating any of the terms or provisions of this Act, and will buy no article or commodity which was produced in any mine, quarry, mill, cannery, workshop, factory, or manufacturing establishment situated in the United States, in which any person, except officers, executives, and superintendents, and their personal and immediate clerical assistants, was employed more than five days in any week or more than six hours in any day.

SEC. 3. (a) No governmental agency shall make or renew any loan to any employer of labor in any mine, quarry, mill, cannery, workshop, factory, or manufacturing establishment situated in the United States, in which any person, except officers, executives, and superintendents and their personal and immediate clerical assistants, was employed more than five days in any week or more than six hours in any day. (b) On and after the effective date of this Act, any such employer of labor who applies for a loan from any such governmental agency shall agree at the time of making application for such loan that so long as he is indebted to the United States he will not permit any person, except officers, executives, and superintendents and their personal and immediate clerical assistants, to work more than five days in any week or more than six hours in any day. In the event that there is a violation by any such employer of his agreement, the full amount of the unpaid principal of the loan made to such employer shall be immediately payable.

SEC. 4. (a) On and after the date this Act takes effect, every code of fair competition, agreement, and license approved, prescribed, or issued under title I of the National Industrial Recovery Act shall contain a condition that the employers covered by such code, agreement, or license shall not employ any person, except officers, executives, and superintendents and their personal and immediate clerical assistants, more than five days in any week or more than six hours in any day. (b) Every such code, agreement, and license heretofore approved, prescribed, or issued under title I of such Act shall be deemed to be amended so as to include a provision corresponding to that prescribed in subsection (a) of this section.

SEC. 5. On and after the date this Act takes effect, it shall be unlawful for any employer subject to any of the provisions of this Act to reduce, directly or indirectly, the daily, weekly, or monthly wage rate in effect on such date (or, in the case of an applicant for a loan from a governmental agency, on the date his application is submitted) with respect to any of his employees until a reasonable opportunity has been afforded to his employees, through representatives of their own choosing by a majority vote, to meet with the employer or his representatives and to discuss and consider fully all questions which may arise in connection with the reduction of such wage rate.

SEC. 6. Any person who violates any of the provisions of this Act, or who fails [to] comply with any of its requirements, shall upon conviction thereof, be fined not [more] than $200, or be imprisoned for not more than three months, or both.

SEC. 7. (a) This Act shall become effective thirty days after the date of its enactment, and it shall not apply to commodities or articles produced or manufactured prior to its effective date. (b) Nothing in this Act shall be construed to apply to agricultural or farm products processed for first sale by the original producer. (c) This Act shall remain in force for two years after the date it becomes effective.

SEC. 8. If any provision, clause, or paragraph of this Act, or the application thereof to any person or circumstances, is held invalid, the remainder of the Act, and the application of such provision, clause, or paragraph to other persons or circumstances, shall not be affected thereby.


For further information on worktime economics, see our "social software" manual alias campaign piece, Timesizing, Not Downsizing, which is available online from *Amazon.com and on the 3rd floor of The Harvard Coop in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass., USA in the economics and mgmt sections.

Comments, questions, suggestions?  E-mail us or phone 617-623-8080 (Boston).


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