A Six Days’ Working Week

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A Six Days’ Working Week

W. T. Stead (The Review of Reviews, vol. XLI, June, 1910) p. 509

Twenty years ago one of the objects for the promotion of which the Association of Helpers was founded was the establishment of the principle of a Six Days’ Working Week. We maintained then, as we have maintained ever since, that the right to one day’s rest in seven was an inalienable and fundamental right of the human being. He might take it on Friday with the Moslem, on Saturday with the Jew and Seventh Day Baptist, or on Sunday with the Christian. But one day in seven he must have, or be defrauded of an indispensable privilege of humankind.

Unfortunately, notwithstanding all the efforts which we made—and at the General Election of 1892 our Helpers in every constituency asked their candidates if they would support a Bill securing the worker statutory recognition of his right to one day’s rest in seven—it is only within the last year or two that any considerable progress has been effected. The concession of one day’s rest in seven to the Metropolitan Police is only now being tardily carried out. It entails an addition to the force of 1,400 men, and the saving of the wages of these men is the price for which the authorities have hitherto sold the weekly rest-day of the police. The London County Council, which in many directions and in earlier days did much to raise the standard of the conditions of labour, has displayed in other directions an unaccountable reluctance to concede this. One hundred and twenty men at the Main Drainage Works of the Northern Sewer Outfall at Barking are employed by the L.C.C. 352 days out of every 365. That is to say, they are cheated out of thirty-nine rest days every year. The electrical engineers at the sub-stations of the Tramway Department are also deprived of their full share of the seventh day rest. The matter was brought before the ratepayers at the last L.C.C. election, and Mr. Frederic Rogers, I understand, intends to take the matter in hand at the Council. In this respect it is to be feared the L.C.C. is no worse than many other municipalities. Reading Town Council has conceded the six days’ week to its police force, thereby adding half-a-dozen men to the strength of the force. But other town councils grudge the extra expense. The collective Christian conscience of the average town council thinks it cheaper to cheat God and man by defrauding its employes of one day’s rest in seven rather than to be honest and employ an adequate staff. To keep back a day’s rest is as dishonest as to keep back a day’s wage, and the employers who exact seven days’ work a week from their employés deserve to be pilloried as criminals.

The importance of this question is steadily forcing itself upon the attention of organised Labour. What is the use of wringing our hands in despair over the lack of employment for willing workers when we are compelling unwilling workers to do a seventh day work which ought to be given to the unemployed? All the more important trades unions in the country have expressed themselves in favour of the six days’ working week.

All the churches and all the trade unions being in agreement, why should not action be taken at once, similar to that which carried old age pensions, to secure this Session this great boon for labour?

It may be difficult. It is not impossible. The rescue of the week-day rest is at least as important as the passing of a Regency Bill or the fixing of a civil list. The Weekly Rest Day Bill, introduced by Mr. Charles E. Price in 1908, and supported among others by Mr. Steadman, Mr. B. Straus, Sir Alfred Thomas, Mr. Corrie Grant, Mr. Shackleton, and Mr. Gulland, might be re-introduced and carried. The object of this Bill is “to provide for each person who is working for an employer having the twenty-four hours of Sunday as a rest day in each week, or when Sunday labour is necessary, to have one Sunday of twenty-four hours uninterrupted in a fortnight and a rest day during the intervening period.”

Canada has passed a similar Bill and it works well. Other countries have legislated for the protection of this precious clause in the Charter of Labour. The attempt made by the L.C.C. to check the increase of Sunday exhibitions failed on a technicality, and there is likely to be a great increase in such Sunday shows unless something is done. Canon Ottley, the indefatigable hon. secretary of the Imperial Sunday Alliance, has been and is still carrying on an active propaganda in favour of legislation to secure the six days’ week. I appeal to all my Helpers, friends and readers to do what they can to influence their Parliamentary representatives to carry this Bill this session. The address of the Imperial Sunday Alliance is 1, Albemarle Street, W.

If you want to help to carry out the Helpers’ Ideal, here is a practical bit of work to be done here and now. What is your town council doing in this matter of Sunday labour? What help has your church or your ethical society or other union or association given to the cause? Now is the time for action— prompt, united, and energetic. Privately and publicly do what you can to carry this Bill this year, and at the same time see what can be done to induce your local governing bodies to give practical effect to the principle without waiting to be compelled by the law.