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The Working Day

fatigue, life, voluntary, hours and principle

THE WORKING DAY Whether laws should directly prescribe maximum hours of labor for adult men is an open question. Probably the prevailing sentiment is against it, on the ground that through trade unions and vol untary agreements the long day can be shortened and the short day maintained. There are advan tages in the voluntary principle, as we have seen in other connections, when it works. If it fails to work,---if under the voluntary principle men are continuously and outrageously overworked so that their working life is reduced, their power to main tain a home and family life impaired, their leisure destroyed or poisoned by fatigue toxins until they have no capacity to use their free time; if standards are fixed by a cheap boarding-house contingent of unmarried immigrants or by any native stock so demoralized and exploitable that self-respecting workingmen who have families to support in de cency and comfort cannot compete with them,— then a fair case may be made out for a limitation of the voluntary principle and the establishment of a maximum working day by law. This has already been done to a large extent as far as employment on public work is concerned, even to some extent when this is done by private contract.

Whether law is needed to establish and maintain a minimum standard as to overwork, or whether this can be left to the operation of free contract between employers and employees, is a question for evidence. In one industry it may be necessary and in another not. However sincere our preference for non-interference, we are coming to have a stronger preference for conserving life and health and character, and those managers of industrial enterprises who prefer to keep their management in their own hands will do so most easily by seeing to it that the hours are reasonable according to present standards of what reasonable hours are.

Science has come to the support of human wel fare once more in this very connection by a more thorough investigation of physiological effects of fatigue. It has been discovered that there is a fatigue toxin, an actual poisoning substance manu factured in the blood when there is prolonged mus cular exertion or strain or severe nervous tension. We may hope that science will stop there and not produce an antitoxin, for it is disturbing to think what some manufacturers might be tempted to do if they had an anti-fatigue toxin which could be hypodermically administered at the end of the eighth or tenth hour. If there were nothing but physiology, that might be all right. We might imagine the work being done by half as many work ers, working all the time, their fatigue germs slaughtered as fast as they appear. But there are other things. Leisure is needed, not merely to counteract fatigue germs by the germicide of rest, but also to enable a man to get acquainted with his children and to round out his life. A reasonable amount of fatigue, quickly compensated, is bene ficial and not pathological, but industry is to be so organized in the day of sound social construction as to keep all workers well within the safety line.