Six-hour workdays were a thing in industrial America for 50 years?!?!
You learn something new every day
I’ve been slowly cooking up some stuff for you, but it’s been more a slow simmer lately, so in the meantime I want to plug, of all things, a book summary that blew my mind.
In a short episode from his podcast Love Your Work, David Kadavy summarizes a book called Kellogg’s 6-Hour Day. At only 15 minutes, it’s got one of the richer no-way!-facts-per-minute ratios that I’ve experienced lately. Here’s just a few nuggets:
Kellogg’s, one of the most iconic American companies of the 20th century, had six-hour workdays for half a century--exclusively from 1930-1943, and for a sizable portion of employees (ranging from a quarter to half) until the 1980s.
They initially did this to save jobs during the Great Depression, which frankly feels kinda quaint and heartwarming as we sit through a wave of capricious layoffs.
Within a year of Kellogg’s doing this, half (!!) of American businesses had instituted six-hour days.
Companies slowly turned against the six-hour day once they started adopting a “Human Relations Management” (i.e. work-humpy, one that sees jobs as the center of fulfillment, the one we’re stuck with now) philosophy. They were able to slowly nudge workers back to wanting 8-hour shifts, in part by bamboozling moron men into seeing six hour shifts as feminine.
Yes, we live in a fascinating time where a six-hour day feels like a limp goal compare to a four-day work week, which in turn feels limp compared to total job abolition. But the Depression and WWII seem like an even more fascinating time. Bertrand Russell made maybe the best point I’ve heard in favor of universal basic income and radical work reduction when he argued that the US basically made that model work during World War II. From In Praise of Idleness:
Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labour required to secure the necessities of life for everyone. This was made obvious during the war….all the men in the armed forces… men and women engaged in the production of munition… spying, war propaganda [etc.] were withdrawn from productive occupations. In spite of this, the general level of physical well-being among unskilled wage-earners on the side of the Allies was higher than before or since….
The war showed conclusively that, by the scientific organization of production, it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world.
We already did this shit (sort of…and unfortunately only to “free” us up to go kill people)! And we could have kept doing it! And at one point, even ghoul executives at Kellogg’s were trending in this direction! It’s heartening to get reminders that we are but one chapter of what is already a rich history of brushes with societal leisure.