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Hugo Oehler

For the 6 Hour Day – No Pay Reduction

The Importance of the Struggle for the Shorter Work Day

(December 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 35 (Whole No. 94), 12 December 1931, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The motion within the working class caused by the present crisis is a forerunner to impeding historic changes. In such a situation it is the duty and task of the Communist to point out the road and lead the way. But once again we find the revisionists within our ranks, the Stalinites, pointing out the road, first of adventure and then of opportunism. This contradictory swing from one extreme to the other is most glaring in the unemployment activity. To the Browders, Johnstones and the district organizers throughout the country, the six hour day slogan is counter-revolutionary, and a new name for the stagger-system.

We present some facts for the comrades. Our literature and propaganda must be so conducted that we never lose sight of our goal, which we must constantly point out to the working class. The party in its Right swing has left this by the wayside, and only now and then in a mechanical way does one find party functionaries presenting the revolutionary conclusions. When a Communist party presents a string of immediate demands for unemployment activity and does not connect them with the ultimate aim, it is a serious situation; to fail to select the DETERMINING connecting link between the present class relationships and our goal is to blunt our weapons and sidetrack our movement into an opportunist swamp, no matter how loudly we proclaim our support of the Soviet Union, etc.

Immediate demands, without proper connection with the revolutionary conclusion are of no value, and are of great harm to the Communist movement. But even if we properly connect the immediate demands to the goal, but fail to pick out the determining slogans in a given situation we also, “lag dangerously behind the task of organizing a widespread movement of the unemployed.” In the resolution of the Central Committee of the party (Daily Worker, 11-28-31) the American bureaucrats list one central unifying slogan: Unemployment Insurance at full wages, a slogan with 29 words. They then present seven main national slogans, which include everything, free rent, gas, light, water and immediate, extensive public work at trade union wages, and the seven hour day.

This is worse than the New York election program which was a local affair, while this is a national directive for the whole American working class. To these main slogans, the resolution adds, “It is necessary to raise local demands in the various localities.”

The Main Slogans

The party does not present to the workers one, two or three short, snappy slogans as the MAIN DETERMINING slogans for our class in the present situation; this is vitally necessary. In my estimation the three outstanding slogans to be given national prominence are: The Six Hour day, the five day week with no reduction in pay, and Immediate Relief and Social Insurance (Not Social Insurance BILL). The last two have been dealt with by the party; I devote myself to the importance of the reduction of hours struggle.

Every worker with ordinary sense is for the reduction of his hours of toil. But the problem does not stop here. Some are working 12 hours, others 10 and some 8 hours. What should be the slogan for this variation? Before the worker will jump, he will want to know if he will receive less pay, because what he makes now by working from 8 to 12 hours is not enough, and if he gets less, he just can’t get by. The slogan for a six hour day does not imply 6 hours of work for every worker in the country at once, no matter how we would desire such. It means (as, (for example, the 8 hour movement of the ’80s) that this slogan rallies the greatest class forces in organized opposition to the capitalists, and where our pressure is the strongest, forces a reduction of hours.

If we look back at the history of our own pages of struggle, we can understand the powerful movements organized around the 10 hour struggle of the ’30s and the 8 hour struggle in the ’80s. Today, American industry has reached a stage rotten ripe for the struggle for the 6 hour day. The American workers of today must continue the heroic examples of the proletariat before us. The historic trend has witnessed the reduction of hours as a national outcome of the class struggle, and with it has developed the intensification of their exploitation. You cannot have your choice If you “refuse” the reduction of hours today – the speed-up of labor will proceed full speed anyway.

The Importance of the Struggle to Reduce Working Hours

Its form may be altered somewhat, but it would be the same speed-up we all know so well. The class conscious worker knows the positive effect powerful unions and successful strikes have on real wages and the standard of living. But in spite of this constant struggle, real wages show little change, that is, the working class in the past and now receive an average wage that is equal to the minimum subsistence level. This is no argument against the struggle for these immediate demands, but it is a powerful argument against those who think they can gain their objective through immediate demands, as well as those who lose sight of the revolutionary goal. On the other hand, the above shows the futility of the social reformist struggle for immediate demands alone, but on the other hand it does not substantiate the “ultra-Leftists” who are against all immediate demands. Immediate demands are the links for the vanguard and the class. What kind of immediate demands, how they are formulated and fought for, is the decisive factor. The slogans the Central Committee of the Party presents for unemployment activity fall short of this test.

The struggle for the reduction of hours is only dragged in by the tail as an additional slogan, and is wrongly formulated at that. If it were possible to add one more hour of work per day to every employed worker, the resulting reaction, in addition to increased unemployment, would be a reduction of pay and less workers doing more work. The problem is stated wrong when one says a low hourly wage rate brings long hours – it is industries with long hours that bring in low hourly rates. On the other hand, if the workers through struggle are able to reduce the hours of toil in decisive sections of industry throughout the country, the reaction would be more workers employed and a tendency toward a rise in wages. The reduction of hours from sun-up to sundown to the present standard has not been accompanied by a proportionate reduction in wages. On the contrary, the reduction of hours through working class struggle has witnessed an increase in wages.

Reduction of Hours Is Strong Blow Against the Bosses

Considering the three overlapping factors; reduction of hours, social insurance and immediate relief for the unemployed the one that will hit the bosses the hardest is the reduction of hours. The reduction of hours hits on the source of profits, at surplus value by reducing the hours of surplus labor-time. Further, of the three, it will lay the basis for greater contradictions for capitalism once a reduction of hours is achieved. Neither immediate relief in the form of government funds, charity or social insurance will cause capitalism as many contradictions as the reduction of hours. At the same time, it is a powerful lever to unite the employed and unemployed, a weak side of the present unemployed movement; and enable the Communist vanguard to build a more durable and stable organizational structure through the united front tactic, which in turn can be used more effectively for the other two points – immediate relief and social insurance. In other words, it is not a matter of a struggle for the reduction of hours first, and the others later, or the sidetracking of the other two factors. It is a question, not only which has the most propaganda value today, social insurance, immediate relief or the reduction of hours, but a question of how to coordinate the three factors, laying a strong organizational basis as we go along and at the same time finding the determining connecting link of the present class relations and our revolutionary goal. The reduction of hours struggle, concretized by the slogan of the Six Hour day, the five day week and no reduction of pay is the fourfold factor.

The hopeless bureaucrat immediately says. Isn’t it .true that many capitalists and reformers are for the six hour day, and do not Green and the rest of the fakers say the same? He draws the conclusion that it must be counter-revolutionary – particularly since the Left Opposition presented this slogan at the very start. What more evidence does anyone want?

Party Policy Makes Easier the Role of Reformists and Fakers

For every capitalist, reformer and labor faker who is for the six hour day, I can point out an equal number (without trouble) who are for social insurance and particularly a Social Insurance BILL. Further, if we count noses, we will find that the Second International, numerically greater than we Communists, also say they are against capitalism and for the socialist mode of production. The main contending classes in society are vitally interested in unemployment, but for opposite reasons. The same is true of all problems of the class struggle. Only stupid bureaucrats, non-Marxists could present such arguments, as the Centrists do.

The failure of the party to lead in the struggle for the Six Hour day, the five day week and no reduction of pay and the organizational weakness of the Communist League to transform this correct theoretical analysis into practice has resulted in allowing the social reformists and reformers to obtain the lead. They are making hay while the sun shines, because they know the impasse America is in with her tremendous machine development and the absolute decrease in the number of workers in production. American Imperialism, in order not to allow the basic contradiction of her capitalist system to mature, is forced to prevent such by taking steps and measure which are in themselves contradictions, and in turn pave the way for an enlargement of the basic contradiction she is hopelessly trying to sidestep. A powerful class movement of the workers for the reduction of hours can hasten this contradiction upon capitalism, creating a condition where we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Providing this comes about through class struggle and not through SOCIAL REFORMIST channels.

The American Stalinist leadership, with their present perspective and analysis on the unemployment question, have throw overboard the very ABC of Marxism, not only on the theoretical side, but also in elementary economics.

It is indeed time for the Communists of America to map out a program of action in all its detail for the Six Hour Day, the Five Day week with no reduction in pay.

(Supplementing comrade Oehler’s valid arguments, it is necessary to add that, particularly and directly in relation to mass unemployment and efforts to relieve it, the international slogan propounded by comrade Trotsky and the Left Opposition, has the necessary strength, appeal and validity to arouse and mobilize wide masses of workers around it.

That is the slogan of large and long-term credits to the Soviet Union, a slogan that is applicable on an international scale, but is especially so in the United States. We have elaborated this question on previous occasions, and the official Communist Party, though in a backhanded inadequate and stupid manner, has found it necessary to finally also raise this slogan. With this additional slogan, as mentioned above, the position of the Communist League of America (Opposition) is a completely correct one. – Ed.).

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