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Inflation, wage cuts & the disappearing 8-hour workday

Published Apr 24, 2008 2:17 AM

If you woke up this morning, you got a pay cut.

First there’s the food price hikes. Milk prices have increased almost 25 percent in the last few months, going to over $4 a gallon in some cities. Eggs have nearly doubled in price during the last year. Food prices have gone up almost 8 percent in the last year, AP reports.

Then there’s the soaring prices for gas and oil. Gasoline for autos is now at the highest price it’s ever been in the United States: over $3.50 a gallon, on average.

The falling dollar also means more inflation in all prices for consumer products, most of which are imported. In March, the dollar hit a 12-year low against the Japanese yen and an all-time low against the European euro.

Rising inflation and a cheaper dollar are in reality wage cuts for U.S. workers.

On this May Day, workers’ day around the world, wage cuts, job losses, rising food prices and the housing crisis will be on the minds of most workers.

May Day began with the struggle by immigrant workers living in Chicago to demand an 8-hour workday with no reduction in pay.

On May 1, 1886, 80,000 workers marched down Michigan Avenue in Chicago in that first May Day rally. In the week after the impressive march in Chicago, more than 350,000 workers went on strike around the U.S. in support of the demand for the 8-hour workday.

Great strikes and struggles followed that eventually won the 8-hour workday and a 40-hour workweek, as well as union rights and union wages. May Day has been celebrated as the workers’ day ever since, in honor of the revolutionary movement begun in Chicago for the 8-hour day.

The 8-hour workday, however, has mostly been taken away from U.S. workers. That’s because 8-hour pay has not kept up. It’s not unusual for workers to depend on overtime hours—that is, work past 8 hours—in order to make enough money just to get by. Those who can’t get overtime often work a second or even a third job.

Now that’s being taken away as well.

The New York Times reported April 18 that “the erosion of the paycheck has become a stealth force driving the American economic downturn. Most of the attention has focused on the loss of jobs and the risk of layoffs. But the less-noticeable shrinking of hours and pay for millions of workers around the country appears to be a bigger contributor to the decline.”

The Times continues, “The reduction of wages and working hours for those still employed has become a primary cause of ... the downward spiral.”

The report adds, “From November through March, as employers began to scale back in a variety of ways, wage growth fell below the pace of inflation, meaning that paychecks were effectively shrinking.”

The average workweek hours are declining and overtime hours have dropped severely.

But as the workers in 1886 showed, even though the capitalists claim that it is the market that makes them cut wages and lay off workers, in most cases that’s not true. The capitalists can and will pay a fair and full wage, if the workers fight for it. But without the fight, the capitalists will take advantage and make as many cuts as they can get away with.