The 40/40/40 Plan
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 was what finally became of the 30-hour workweek bill that passed the Senate but not the House in 1933. The FLSA was a work-sharing bill rendered ineffectual by having had all its 30-hour teeth pulled.
Nevertheless, it did establish the precedent of a national, statutory workweek in the United States of America. And, though this is almost unknown, it established the principle of gradualism in imposing change on big systems - it decreed a 44-hour maximum workweek for 1938, a 42-hour maximum workweek for 1939, and a 40-hour maximum workweek for 1940, yielding the once-famous 40/40/40 Plan - 40 hours maximum workweek, 40 cents minimum hourly wage, in 1940. (Don't confuse this with our current 40x40x40 Plan - occasioned by our overlong retention of the 1940 workweek - "Work 40 hrs/wk for someone else for 40 years, and then receive a 40% paycut.")
Our gradual transition, 44-42-40 hrs/wk between 1938 and 1940, may have been the model for the planned yearly step-down of the French workweek which began, and unfortunately ended after only one step, in 1982. The plan was to continue the actually enacted one-hour reduction of the French statutory workweek of 1982 to 39 hours, with 38 hours in 1983, 37 hours in 1984, 36 hours in 1985 and 35 hours in 1986. Somehow this got stymied at 39 hours a week and no further progress was made in France until last year when companies over 20 employees jumped down, many kicking and screaming, to 35 hours a week.
The same thing happened in 1941 in the USA, which might have seen a 38-hour workweek and a 30-hour workweek in 1945 if the 2-hrs/yr step process had continued. Howevah, the British Empiah had already been at war with the "Thousand-year" Reich for over a year by late 1940, and the Lend-Lease Act was gearing up to deal the U.S. into the bonanza of war contracts. Plus there had already been a blizzard of squeals and pleas for exceptions from the workweek maximum by short-term oriented American businesses, large and small, who just didn't "get it."
So the workweek maximum got stuck at 40 hours, with no further reductions, and in fact, with considerable weakening, a weakening which accelerated tremendously once the babyboomers over-replaced the War's kill-off by 1970, and wives began entering the workforce in record numbers to try to maintain the family's living standards, and then in the 1990s, once immigrants began entering the country in record numbers to try to boost the vote of whichever of the duopolist parties was in power.
A much better alternative than this arbitrary, inflexible and politically vulnerable stepping or jumping of the workweek is the flexible adjustment of the workweek against underemployment, coupled with overtime-to-training conversion, built into the Timesizing program.
For more details, our 1998 campaign piece, Timesizing, Not Downsizing, is available on the third floor at the Harvard Coop in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass. or from *Amazon.com online.
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