Today in labor history: 40 hour week and minimum wage

October 24 marks events in two of the most significant struggles by workers in U.S. history: for shorter hours and better wages.

In 1940, the 40-hour work week went into effect under the Fair Labor Standards Act, signed by President Roosevelt two years earlier. In 1945. the U.S. minimum wage increased to 40¢ an hour.

The fight between workers and big business for shorter hours and better pay has been a constant struggle stemming from the fact that human labor creates all wealth but big business is profit driven.

The history of working people in the United States – the real U.S. history – is filled with examples of these struggles: from abolitionism (slaves received NO pay) through May Day and the earliest attempts at an 8 hour day, the mass organizing of industrial workers and the forming of unions, strikes in numerous industries and in every state.

Today’s struggles include the fight for a fair minimum wage and decent wages for big box employees and fast food workers, for immigration reform affecting millions of workers and their families, the fight against so called “right to work” legislation and the fight against the attacks on public sector workers.

As in the past the struggle for these rights is met with big business resistance that takes many forms: firings, heavy handed anti-union propaganda, buying off elected officials and pushing anti-union legislation, clogging the courts with lawsuits, media lies, voter suppression and worse – the recent shutdown of the federal government!

The AFL-CIO, the country’s largest labor federation, held a groundbreaking convention in Los Angeles a few weeks ago. The convention was a break from the past in many ways, from who participated to the issues discussed and the decisions made. 

Workshops and plenaries discussed and passed resolutions on organizing the South, labor/community campaigns, immigration reform, lesbian, gay and bisexual rights, the fight for voting rights, environmental issues, women workers, the prison industrial complex and more.

Many speakers emphasized bringing the fight to the giant multinational corporations and union-busters, their ultra-right friends in Congress and statehouses, and organizations like ALEC who are at the forefront of dismantling workers rights and democracy.

Read People’s World’s extensive coverage of the AFL-CIO convention

Photo: Communication Workers of America Local 6012


Special to People’s World
Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.