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T. Stamm

The Importance of the 6 Hour Day
Slogan Under the N.I.R.A.

(August 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 39, 12 August 1933, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Under the pressure of capitalist rationalization of industry and the great swath which the crisis cut in employment, the organized labor movement in its larger part has turned toward the shorter work day as a means of absorbing into industry some part of the great army of unemployed.

The Socialist party and the A.F. of L. have officially gone on record for the six hour day, five day week. It goes without saying that the economic development of the United States makes possible not only a six hour day but even a shorter one.

The blanket code provides a thirty five and forty maximum hour week. Most of the codes submitted provide for forty hours. Thirty-five and forty hour maximum are stagger systems. They will not absorb the unemployed workers. The spokesmen for the electrical workers union stated that to absorb the unemployed in that trade an 11 hour maximum was necessary! On the other hand a forty hour maximum is an increase in hours in some trades.

The contradiction between the official position of organized labor and the labor provisions of the N.I.R. A. creates the condition for a struggle for a shorter day in the interest of the working class. But there is no struggle for the six hour day. Instead the labor fakers make a pretense of opposing the hours stipulated in the various codes. Sidney Hillman appeared before the National Recovery Administration and attacked the forty hours demanded by the bosses on the ground that the average number of hours in the men’s clothing industry in 1932 was a fraction over 37. To put men back to work he proposed 35! Others like John L. Lewis have come forward as the champions of the thirty hour week. They are of two kinds. Those that qualify the demand for the thirty hour week by stipulating a five day week or a six hour day are making demagogic use of the slogan to retain their leadership and their hold over their followers. Those who do not embellish their fakery with these qualifications are trying to put over a stagger system on the workers. For a maximum of thirty hours a week is not at all the six hour day, five day week. It may and most likely will be a three day week of ten hours.

The reasons for the absence of a militant struggle around the slogan of the six hour day, five day week are many. The A.F. of L. and S.P. bureaucracies are not going to conduct struggles if they can avoid them. And they will lead those the workers force upon them only to sell them out or steer them into channels as little harmful to the capitalist class as they can manage. The illusions sown by the NIRA also tend to keep the workers in a state of expectant and hopeful passivity.

But, deeper than these reasons lies the failure of the Communist party to give a correct analysis of the situation, to foresee the blows of the capitalist class and arm the workers with a correct policy and the correct slogans. The party’s trade-union policy isolated it from the organized working class movement. On the other hand from the beginning of the crisis the party staked its cards on the unemployed movement and attempted to build it as a movement separate and apart from the struggles of the class as a whole and the organized trade union movement. In pursuing this orientation it made unemployment insurance its central slogan. Later it added immediate relief. But at all times in this period it rejected the slogan of the six hour day five day week. In our thesis for our second national conference we held out the perspective for what was then the coming period of struggles by the workers against the capitalist offensive. We are now entering that period. The wave of strikes is assuming the character of an offensive. Nearly all of them center around wage increases, shorter hours and union recognition.

In its Open Letter to the Central Committee of the C. P. on February 15, 1931, the Left Opposition with regard to the question of a central slogan and its relation to the stage of the movement: “In each tactics must lay the basis for correct preparation and direction of the next one.” And in line with this idea the Opposition proposed: “The central immediate demand must be the six hour day without reduction in pay.” (Today it is necessary to demand increased pay to keep step with the rising cost of living.) And the opposition has consistently advanced this slogan as the means of uniting the employed and the unemployed.

The failure of the Stalinist leadership of our party to lay the basis in the past period for the transition to the present one is the reason the party has been unable thus far to influence the workers in their attitude toward the NIRA. It also explains the failure of the party to build a united movement of the employed and unemployed workers.

But the Stalinists have learned nothing from their blundering. Yesterday the six hour day slogan was a propaganda slogan, a slogan of preparation for action. The Stalinists rejected it as counter-revolutionary. They adopted the slogan of the seven hour day. Later it changed its slogan from the seven hour day to the shorter workday with no reduction in pay. (Daily Worker of April 8, 1933)

For a time the party was able to get by with this ambiguous and confusionist slogan. But the NIRA gave it its quietus. The codes are specific. The Stalinists who foresee nothing and reel under the blows of the class struggle were taken by surprise by the Act. In their reaction to it the bankruptcy of their position in the trade union question and the shorter workday was exposed.

Today they are trailing not only the reformists and the labor fakers but even the capitalists. Their policy on the shorter workdayis entirely empiric. It varies with each industry and each trade and each iode. And in nearly every case it trails the labor fakers. Dubinsky appeared before the NIRA and spoke for the 30 hour week. Hyman of the Industrial Union spoke for the 35 hour week according to the Freiheit and 33 according to the Daily Worker. McMahon of the U.T.W. spoke for a thirty hour week, Ann Burlak of the N.T.W.I.U. asked for a 30 to 40 hour week.

On the other hand Powers, chairman of a delegation of workers in speaking on the shipbuilding code, demanded the six hour day five day week. (Daily Worker, July 24, 1933) And two days later the New York Times and the Daily Worker reported that Alex Noral of the Lumber Workers Union of the Northwest in speaking on the lumbermen’s code, demanded “That the six hour day and five day week be established for the industry as a whole.”

The lack of a correct policy by the Stalinists on the question of the shorter workday should be clear. In this respect the party can record only failure. The party is unable to influence the workers in their attitude toward the NIRA. It is seriously handicapped in exposing the fakery of its provisions. It has allowed the reformist and labor fakers to make capital out of the shorter work day for their own ends and in the interests of the capitalists.

Serious struggles of the workers against the slavery which the NIRA will impose on them are ahead. If the party is going to discharge its duty toward the class it must break through its frightful sectarian isolation. At present it is travelling in the opposite direction. One of the first steps to change the course is a serious analysis of the past course and open admission that its policy on the shorter workday was false. Analyses like the bureaucratic whitewash of the Open Letter only make the confusion deeper. The party must adopt the slogan of the six hour day, five day week with increased pay and approach the A.F. of L. and the S.P. with a serious offer of a united front struggle for it. That is the road to defeat the attack which lies hidden in the wooden horse of the NIRA.

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