"Eight Hours and Nothing Less"
London-born Samuel Gompers came to New York in 1863, when he was 13 and became a cigar maker. He
rose to leadership in the cigar makers’ union, established the American Federation of Labor (AFL), and
served as the organization’s president from 1886 to 1924. Gompers dealt mainly with the basic issues of
wages and working conditions. On May 1, 1890, he delivered a speech in Louisville, Kentucky, on the need
for an eight-hour workday. Portions of the speech follow.
As you read, consider the following questions:
• How does a shorter workday encourage progress, according to Gompers?
• What arguments does Gompers use against a long workday?
My friends, we have met here today to celebrate the idea that has prompted thousands of working-people of
Louisville and New Albany to parade the streets of y[our city]; that prompts the toilers of Chicago to turn
out by their fifty or hundred thousand of men; that prompts the vast army of wage-workers in New York to
demonstrate their enthusiasm and appreciation of the importance of this idea; that prompts the toilers of
England, Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Austria to defy the manifestos of the autocrats of the
world and say that on May the first, 1890, the wage-workers of the world will lay down their tools in
sympathy with the wage-workers of America, to establish a principle of limitations of hours of labor to
eight hours for sleep [applause], eight hours for work, and eight hours for what we will. [Applause.] . . .
. . . They tell us that the eight-hour movement can not be enforced, for the reason that it must check
industrial and commercial progress. I say that the history of this country, in its industrial and commercial
relations, shows the reverse. I say that is the plane on which this question ought to be discussed—
that is the social question. As long as they make this question an economic one, I am willing to discuss it
with them. I would retrace every step I have taken to advance this movement did it mean industrial and
commercial stagnation. But it does not mean that. It means greater prosperity; it means a greater degree of
progress for the whole people; it means more advancement and intelligence, and a nobler race of
people. . . .
They say they can't afford it. Is that true? Let us see for one moment. If a reduction in the hours of labor
causes industrial and commercial ruination, it would naturally follow increased hours of labor would
increase the prosperity, commercial and industrial. If that were true, England and America ought to be
at the tail end, and China at the head of civilization. [Applause.]
Is it not a fact that we find laborers in England and the United States, where the hours are eight, nine and
ten hours a day—do we not find that the employers and laborers are more successful? Don't we find them
selling articles cheaper? We do not need to trust the modern moralist to tell us those things.