The Golden Age of Work

Posted in Read it in books on May 1st, 2010 by bill

In honor of Mayday, here’s another excerpt from Tom Lutz’s Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America. This one describes the somewhat less rigid workplace atmosphere that obtained in this country in the 19th century.

Around the time that [Paul] Lafargue [son-in-law of Karl Marx and the author of The Right to Be Lazy] was developing his ideas about laziness and being chagrined by his father-in-law’s daily industry, a New York cigar manufacturer grumbled that his cigar makers could never be counted on to do a straight shift’s labor. They would “come down to the shop in the morning, roll a few cigars,” he complained to the New York Herald in 1877, “and then go to a beer saloon and play pinnocio [sic] or some other game.” The workers would return when they pleased, roll a few more cigars, and then revisit the saloon, all told “working probably two or three hours a day,” or exactly the amount of time Lafargue thought should be legislated [as the maximum number of hours worked per day]. Cigar makers in Milwaukee went on strike in 1882, in fact, simply to preserve their right to leave the shop at any time without their foreman’s permission.
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