George Jean Nathan on Working Hours
George Jean Nathan, The Autobiography of an Attitude (New York: Knopf, 1925), pp. 107-09.
How much does the poor union working man, abused and oppressed by capital, actually work?
Let us see.
There are 365 days in a year. Of these, 52 are Sundays. That leaves 313 days. Of these, 52 are Saturdays or half-work days. Half of 52 is 26. That leaves 287 days. Of these, there are New Year’s Day, Lincoln’s Birthday, Washington’s Birthday, Decoration Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Columbus’ Birthday, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas — all holidays, which leaves 278 days. In addition, there are such State holidays as Arbor Day, such holidays as St. Patrick’s Day and various religious holidays like Good Friday — an average of, let us say — to put it low — a half dozen. That leaves 272 days. The average human being, according to the best medical statistics available, is ill, taking one year with another, at least twelve days each year, and is then unfit for work. That leaves 260 days. The average working man’s vacation period amounts to two weeks or, less the two Sundays and two half-Saturdays already counted, eleven days. That leaves 249 days. A day contains 24 hours, eight of which are the union limit for labor. Eight is one-third of 24, hence the working man works for one-third of 249 days. That is 83 days. On each of these 83 days he takes an hour off for lunch. Eighty-three hours amounts approximately to three and one-half days. That leaves 79.5 days. Now, it is impossible for any human being to work continuously, without periodic rest, for seven hours. There must be time to stop for breath, to ease up the muscles, to take the crick out of one’s back, to wait until one’s helper is ready, to light one’s pipe, to wipe the sweat from one’s forehead — to do any number of such things. In a working period of seven hours, at least one hour is necessarily so wasted. That means, in 79.5 days, 79.5 hours — or approximately three and one-third days. That leaves approximately 76.16667 days. The average poor working union man thus actually works just 76.16667 days out of the 365. When you have figured out the percentage, breathe a sympathetic sigh for him.