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Jack Wilson

40 Hour Week Will Be the First War Victim!

It’s Not Only Question of How Many Hours We’re to Work,
But Also of Time and a Half for Overtime

(December 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 50, 15 December 1941, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“It will not only be a long war. It will be a hard war.”

The seven-day work week ordered in all war industries by President Roosevelt in his first wartime address brought home to organized labor the stark reality of those words of the President.

“Industrialists ... must forego extra profit,” the president explained, in connection with the sacrifices of workers which have been ordered.

Big business will have to give up extra profit, the President declares. Extra profit! The six per cent as usual continues. The big homes, the expensive parties, the luxurious mode of life ... all these continue for the rich, while the workers suffer in a hard war.

All of labor’s gains in recent years, are threatened by the abrogation of union contracts involved in the presidential order. Millions of lives will be lost, before this war is over. It will be a hard war ... for labor.

But what’s hard about only giving up extra profits? Profits you haven’t got yet, anyhow?

“It is not a sacrifice for the industrialist to forego extra profits,” the President said. Correct. But why should he make profit at all, when everyone else is sacrificing even lives in the war effort? This is going to become the question of the day, and for the duration.

Labor must demand, in self-preservation, not only that all the profit be taken out of war, but also that double time be paid for all overtime, above a 40-hour week.

Isn’t this selfish? the newspapers will scream. No! For only by a steady increase in money wages will labor be able to keep up its already low standard of living, because prices are going to keep climbing.

The situation on the home front stresses the need, above all, of labor defense.

On the war front, the incompetence of the Navy brass hats has already become a national scandal, without full details being known. Roosevelt admits bad news from the Pacific. Arthur Krock, most conservative writer on the New York Times and chief of its Washington bureau, speaks about the “loss not being matched in our national history.”

The war crisis is a crisis of a bankrupt society and a bankrupt leadership. In three days this has been hammered home by events. More events and lessons will follow!

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