Working hours: 16 hours per day: when we slaved like machines

Changing working hours The 90-hour week – when we started to slave away like machines

If one wants to understand how much working until the beginning of the 19. If the use of time has changed since the beginning of the twentieth century, the use of time must be examined. For the division of time that we still use today – into work and leisure time – is an achievement (or a ballast) from those days. Because before there was not this clear demarcation. For thousands of years the life of people was seasonal. And time for breaks, to sleep or to eat, was taken as it was convenient. The fact that we now even schedule time for recreation would have been difficult to convey to people from the Middle Ages.

When a day began was regulated by the sun. Earlier in summer, later in winter. There were no clearly defined working hours. Time in itself was less important, since work and life were bundled in one place. The miller in his mill, the merchant above his counting house or the baker in his bakery just started to work when the daylight allowed it. Integrated into the day were breaks for eating or even taking a nap. This was also possible in Germany because the agricultural structures were still pronounced. At the beginning of the 19th century. In the nineteenth century, about 90 percent of the population lived in villages of no more than 5,000 inhabitants. Today, research can prove that people in the Middle Ages did not work any more than they do today.

Men at the telegraph office in London at the end of the 19th century

But in between, there was a period of technical innovation that showed that time is money. This applied less to people than to the machines that were developed from the 19th century onward. The 20th century was a time when groundbreaking inventions were supposed to make people’s work easier. From the end of the 18. The triumphant advance of steam-powered engines began at the end of the nineteenth century. Whether in the textile industry, in mining, in iron extraction and processing, or in transportation: Steam is everywhere. It drives ships and locomotives – and thus not only changes the nature of production, but also allows distances to be covered more quickly.

But these machines were only profitable if they worked. Standstill brought no money. And so it happened that these machines suddenly set the pace of everyday life. Work and life no longer depended on the time of year or sunrise. But it was always possible – and necessary. The beat of time beat fast.

Working hours through the ages Work in the Middle Ages: Was there really so much toil back then??

Changing working hours: work and life are separating

For the first time, the workplace became detached from the home for a large group of people. This also meant the end of the family production of handicrafts. And this was also accompanied by the splitting of working time and leisure time. The increase in population in the first half of the 19th century led to a decline in family production. At the beginning of the twentieth century, factory owners and entrepreneurs linked the clocking of workers to that of the machines. Because there were enough workers – and they were cheap.

The result: long working hours and low wages. In addition, work on and with machines was considered easy compared to heavy physical labor. And: One rarely needed several years of education for the work. Women and children were also called upon. Herman Bausinger, professor emeritus of cultural studies, cites the clock industry in Schwenningen as an example. According to this, work began from Monday to Saturday at 4 a.m. in the summer and at 5 a.m. in the winter – and sometimes continued on Sundays, finishing between 8 and 10 p.m. Thus, around 1850, the workers there had a weekly working time of 90 hours.

Women in a textile factory, around 1910

But already in the middle of the 19th century. century there were also factories with more "worker-friendly" working hours Working hours: "The working hours for the whole year are as follows: from six in the morning to twelve at noon, from one at noon to seven in the evening", Bausinger quotes from a factory regulation of a machine factory in Eblingen. Including the exceptions on Sundays and public holidays in the Monday after paydays, workers had a weekly working time of around 70 hours.

"The partly drastic extension of working hours in the course of industrialization thus clearly shows the social consequences of unrestrained economic enforcement of interests", writes historian Michael Schneider. "While the development of working hours also varied greatly by industry and region, a reference to average working hours must suffice here: after about 10 to 12 hours per day and about 60 to 72 hours per week were worked around 1800, by 1820 it was about 11 to 14 or. 66 to 80 hours and around 1830 to 1860 then 14 to 16 hours respectively. 80 to 85 hours. It was not until the next decade – from 1861 to 1870 – that working hours tended to decline to 12 to 14 hours a day and 78 hours a week."

The historian goes on to write that these long working hours applied not only to adults – but also to children. This is how children toiled in factories or in mines. "Overtiredness, deficiencies, illness and irregular school attendance of children, as well as low military fitness of young people, became the catalyst for the first efforts to introduce legal health and safety regulations for children", according to Bausinger. On 6. April 1839 confirmed king Friedrich William III. The "Regulations on the Employment of Young Workers in Factories". According to this, children under the age of 10 were no longer allowed to work in factories, older children were forbidden to work at night, and the working day was limited to ten hours. This decree was tightened again in 1853. Nevertheless: child labor was still legal.

Work-life balance

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Retirement at 70

"It was not only the fact that the physical limit of the workers’ endurance had been reached with the working hours around the middle of the century, and probably not only the intervention of the state in favor of particularly vulnerable groups – children and women – that contributed to the fact that around 1860 the trend toward longer working hours was broken.", writes Michael Schneider. However, this intervention was not without controversy. Political regulations in entrepreneurial issues – that was not welcome. "Accordingly, health and safety legislation progressed very slowly: in 1878, compulsory factory inspection was introduced; in addition, the Federal Council was empowered to prohibit the employment of children and women in manufacturing sectors where particular dangers to health and morals were to be expected. With the old-age insurance, the end of the working life was set for the first time – at 70 years", according to Schneider.

The call for an 8-hour working day is much older, as early as the 1830s Robert Owen made the demand in Great Britain. The first working day with eight hours of work with full pay is said to have occurred in 1856 in Australia among stonemasons. A few years had to pass before this was the case in Germany. In 1918, the time had come – but just five years later, the legally anchored eight-hour day was again undermined by the employers. It would take until 1946 for it to be reinstated.

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