Shorter working hours—the roses of “Bread and Roses” fame—are part of a long and progressive American tradition. A famous Dorothea Lange photo from 1937 shows a National Association of Manufacturers billboard on a hardware store. It reads: WORLD’S SHORTEST WORKING HOURS—THERE’S NO WAY LIKE THE AMERICAN WAY! A bill passed the U.S. Senate in 1933 that would have made the official workweek only thirty hours long. Presidents from FDR to Richard Nixon called for reducing working hours.
In our time, feminist and women’s groups, including MomsRising.org and the National Partnership for Women and Families, have led the way in promoting work-life balance policies, demanding paid family leave, paid sick days, and flexible hours. Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida has introduced a bill calling for mandatory paid vacations, guaranteed by law in almost every country. The United States joins Burma and a handful of others that don’t offer this basic benefit.
. . . . We seem faced with a choice between environmental disaster or massive unemployment. Unless, of course, we slow down by reducing working hours and sharing the work. Half a century of economic growth has not increased our happiness. More free time might well do so. It will certainly improve our health.
Americans will exercise more, sleep more, garden more, volunteer more, spend more time with friends and family, and drive less. We need full employment, but not by returning to the unhealthy overwork of recent decades. . . .
Progressives would do well to advocate reduced working hours instead of demanding unsustainable growth. . . . Reducing work hours and sharing available work is essential for our families, health, economic security, and the environment.
It’s time to get on with it.
John de Graaf is a documentary filmmaker, director of Take Back Your Time (www.timeday.org), and co-author of “Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic.” His new book, “What’s the Economy For, Anyway?” will be published by Bloomsbury Press in 2011.
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