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.

In this the cigar workers were typical manufacturing laborers, refusing to submit to the kind of steady work habits [Ben] Franklin recommended and industrial economics encouraged and attempted to impose. Throughout the century, industrialists protested against what they saw as the laziness and recalcitrance of their workers. “Monday,” one manufacturer claimed, was always “given up to debauchery” and recovery from the weekend’s drinking. Saturday, payday, often resulted in the visit of a brewery wagon to the factory and the beginning of three days of said debauchery. The resulting nominal four-day workweek also saw its share of drinking. Daily breaks for “dramming” were common, with workers coming and going from the workplace as they pleased. An English cabinetmaker in 1846 wrote home that his American coworkers would frequently indulge in “a simultaneous cessation of work…as if by tacit agreement,” and an apprentice would be sent out for “wine, brandy, biscuits, and cheese.” Daily breaks were common for meals, snacks, drink, and reading the newspaper aloud to fellow workers. Workers came and left for the day at different times as well, for various personal reasons.

Although the English cabinetmaker was surprised by the laxity of his American peers, other immigrant British laborers brought their irregular work schedule with them to America. The potters in Trenton, New Jersey, mainly immigrants from Staffordshire, would, after “bursts of great activity,” simply quit working for several days at a time, and their workdays were often, by twentieth-century standards, riddled with breaks. An owner of a New Jersey iron manufactory made the following notations in his diary over the course of a week:

  • All hands drunk.
  • Jacob Ventling hunting.
  • Molders all agree to quit work and went to the beach.
  • Peter Cox very drunk.
  • Edward Rutter off a-drinking

At the shipyards, the same tendency to stop working at irregular intervals and drink was the rule. One ship’s carpenter at midcentury described a daily round of breaks for cakes and candy at least every two hours, a whiskey-soaked lunch, and regular trips to “convenient grog-shops.” Although some never went drinking, he said, others “sailed out pretty regularly ten times a day on the average” for whiskey. Management attempts to stop such midday drinking breaks were routinely met with strikes and sometimes resulted in riots.

This kind of laissez-faire approach to the work day is long gone from the dear old USA, but judging from the following news story—less than a month old—not from all parts of the world.

Carlsberg staff strike over ban on drinking at work

COPENHAGEN, April 8 (Reuters Life!) – A few hundred warehouse workers and drivers at Danish brewer Carlsberg halted work for a second day on Thursday to protest a company decision to limit beer drinking at work to lunch breaks.

The strike in Denmark followed the company’s April 1 decision to introduce new rules for employees on beer drinking at work, said Jens Bekke, spokesman at the world no.4 brewer.

“There has been free beer, water and soft drinks everywhere,” he said. “Yesterday, beers were removed from all refrigerators. The only place you can get a beer in future is in the canteen, at lunch.”

Bekke said drivers retained an old right to three beers per day outside lunch hours, and warehouse workers claimed the same right.

“Because of that, the warehouse staff went on strike yesterday, with other staff striking in sympathy,” he said.

Bekke said as many as 800 had walked out on Wednesday, with 250 still on strike on Thursday, and the Confederation of Danish Industry and trade union 3F had agreed to look into the dispute.

He said there would be no shipments from Copenhagen on Thursday, and delays in the rest of the country, but said he expected the financial effect of the strike to be minor.

He added that Carlsberg’s trucks have alcohol locks so drivers would not be able to drink too much and drive.

(Reporting by Anna Ringstrom, editing by Paul Casciato)

So throw one down for the freedom-loving Danish tonight — or, better yet, first thing Monday morning.