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E. Lund

Protect Labor’s 40 Hour Week!

(March 1942)


From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 10, 9 March 1942, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


The Smith amendment to do away with time and a half for overtime has been defeated but the capitalist press still carries on its campaign to rouse the country against workers being paid extra for overtime.

It is time to forget the 40-hour week when extra hours can put airplanes, tanks and guns where they are so desperately needed at the fighting front,” says an. editorial in the New York Times of last Thursday.

What 40-hour week, Mr Times Editor? What guns, planes and tanks are not being produced because of the 40-hour week? In New York? Chicago? West Coast? Everywhere workers put in from 48 to 74 hours in defense plants. Does anyone know of a defense plant anywhere working a 40-hour week? If the Times knows about one it has failed to mention it.

Then why statements like the above? Obviously to impress the middle class and others not directly connected with industry with a picture of soldiers dying for lack of equipment while lazy workers insist on working only 40 hours a week. Be careful, Mr. Editor. The working people have stood a lot of kicking around since the war began and are liable not to take any more.

“AUTOMATIC SCREW MACHINE operator, thoroughly experienced, must be able to make own set-up, 74 hour week.”

The above is from an ad run in Sunday’s Times. How many of the hirelings of the capitalist press would even have the strength to write a labor-hating editorial after working 74 hours in a machine shop, not to speak of the inclination to write one? And what is more important, how many of the pot-bellied bankers and industrialists, who smack their lips as they read this stuff in the Times while their chauffeur drives them down to work in the morning (around 11 o’clock) would even have the strength after 74 hours to say “damn the labor unions”?

But, argue some of the apologists of the ruling class, even if all industries are running on an overtime schedule, it is unjust to make the employer pay extra when he is so patriotic as to make an effort for national defense.

As if the industrialists did anything except for their own profit. If war orders mean more money in their pocket, why not run their plants day and night? If, however, war orders interfere with profits, as in the case of the auto industry, just stall along with “business as usual” as long as possible.

Aside from this, all the big defense plants are operating on a “cost plus” basis, i.e., they submit a bill for material and labor and add a percentage for profit. Why should time and a half pay prevent them from producing?

The real question isn’t time and a half at all. A man working 60 hours at a 90 cent rate gets paid $63 on the basis of time and a half for all over 40 hours. If he were to offer to work for $1.05 per hour straight time for 60 hours to make up his same $63, those who howl against time and a half would not in the least be satisfied. What they really want is to cut the wages of labor while industry is stuffing itself with war profits!

Every worker knows what the loss of time and a half would mean to him. That is why all the plants were buzzing with excitement when the Smith amendment was before the House. Had it been passed, this country would have witnessed such a reaction on the part of the workers as to make past strike waves tame in comparison. And that is why Roosevelt, knowing the power of the aroused working class, put the screws on the House to defeat the measure. But it is not the last we have heard of it. Not by a long shot. The capitalists will not be content as long as this worker earns a dollar they can gouge out of him. Let’s be on guard. Let them know we are not in a mood to have something put over on us.


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