History of compensation... Boston ship carpenters were one the first tradesmen to raise the question of labor hours by refusing to work more than 10 hours a day, unless paid extra for each hour. At that time, work weeks in the United States averaged 90-100 hours. Employers argued that conducting business in a ten-hour system was impossible, but the movement, which was already underway in other industries, spread throughout the states.

In 1835 Boston shipbuilders went on strike for 10-hour work days. They were joined by workers from other industries to challenge “the traditional sunup-to-sundown working day" and set in motion the movement that eventually landed a standard ten-hour work day. Despite not being unionized, ship workers managed to achieve an eight-hour day in 1842, long before most industries. This laid the groundwork for the eight-hour day we have today.

In June 1868, Congress passed an eight-hour law for federal employees. During the 1870s, eight hours became a central demand, especially among labor organizers. The eight-hour day movement forms part of the early history for the celebration of Labor Day, and May Day in many nations and cultures.

More tomorrow...