The International Workingmen’s Association. Wilhelm Eichhoff 1869


The author has one more pleasant duty to perform before he takes leave of the German workers, to whom this book is dedicated.

Under the heading, “The Eight Hours Movement”, the Köllnische Zeitung of July 19, 1868, carried the following heartening report:

“Agitation that was being conducted ill the United States in the past few years has suddenly been crowned with complete success, due less to its own intrinsic merit than to tilt, coincidence of external circumstances which influenced the legislature. Once before, the working time in governmental workshops and factories was reduced from twelve to ten hours a day. Not content, the workers demanded a further reduction, to eight hours (arid, mind you, without any reduction ill the existing wages, whence the name, “The Eight Hours Movement”). Congress repeatedly dismissed this demand, but has not (fared to consign a renewed motion to the same fate. For both parties need the workers’ votes in the coming presidential elections, and neither of them, probably against its innermost conviction to the contrary, wishes to affront the movement and incur the discontent of those numerous voters. In England, too, a part of the workers have written a slogan on their banner that smacks of a play on words: ‘Eight hours’ work, eight hours’ rest, eight hours’ sleep, and eight shillings’ wage.’ As long as the said movement keeps within the pale of the law and as long as no intimidation and no illicit pressure are applied against the workers who think for themselves and want their labour power to be used as they themselves deem right, the authorities will have to, and will prefer to, allow the agitation to follow its natural course,. The all-powerful unwritten law that regulates supply and demand will eventually make itself felt here as well''

That the Kölnische Zeitung, an organ of the German bourgeoisie, is not particularly delighted over the unexpected success of the eight hours movement in America, should surprise no one who, like that paper, believes in the “omnipotence” of the “unwritten” law of supply and demand.

The New-Yorker Handelszeitung, too, is right from the standpoint of “supply and demand – when it testily declares:

“We can only deplore this decision, which reeks of demagoguery. Both Houses of Congress have fixed the working time ill governmental workshops at eight hours without changing the wages, and the President has promptly signed the Act. In other words, the national authorities have introduced the eight-hour system. They are entitled to do so: the master can set the working time in his establishments. But by doing so they have sanctioned agitation that is without rhyme or reason. And they know it. Generally speaking, legislation has as little to do with regulating the relationship between the working man and the employer as it has with how often the noble and free citizen of this Republic should put on a fresh shirt or if he should go through life ill whole or torn stockings; and if the attempt to immobilise one-fifth of the productive forces is really timely is surely also open to question. A man who wanted to win the favour of the blind part of the labouring masses threw ill a firebrand, and within sight of the coming national elections no one wanted to run the danger of burning his fingers oil it. The price of labour as that of any other commodity is regulated fly the relationship between supply and demand. If the legislature wishes to deal with the matter it is bound to make a fool of itself. That the gentlemen Representatives and Senators fail to see this cannot be possible. To out great surprise, even a mail like Senator Sumner has given vent to a lot of fine words about the workers’ educational needs allegedly being served in this way – words of whose total lack of meaning he himself must have been profoundly aware. Only he is a friend of the people who does not shrink from telling them the truth even in peril of doing himself damage. Once the elections are over, the workers will notice that they have been deceived.”

The immediate future will show if the eight hours movement is “without rhyme or reason” and if the American workers will notice that they “have been deceived” once the presidential elections are over.

For Europe that question is secondary compared to the great event that the legislature of the United States has sanctioned the eight hours movement.[444]

The consequences will not be long in coming. From the workshops and factories of the United States government the eight-hour principle will make its way forward and gain recognition as a moral and legitimate demand of the working class everywhere in America, England and the European continent – wherever to this day the belief in the “omnipotence” of supply and demand has raised the duration of the working day to the limits of human endurance and pressed down wages to the lowest limits of the worker’s needs.

Now we are beginning to witness what Karl Marx, that painstaking explorer of and authority on social conditions, prophesied on July 25, 1867:

As in the 18th century, the American War of Independence sounded the tocsin for the European middle class, so in the ]9th century, the American Civil War sounded it for the European working class.” [Preface to the First Edition of Capital]