Eight Hours
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Lesley Nelson-Burns


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In 1850 the average work week was 70 hours, in 1900 the average work week was 60 hours and in 1920 the average work week was 50 hours. In the 1840s unions began working for a 10 hour day.

Agitation for the eight hour day began after the Civil War. Congress passed an eight hour law on June 25, 1868, but it was largely ignored. In the 1880s the issue was revived. This song was written during that revival and became the official song of the movement. The tune is by Rev. Jesse H. Jones and the words are by I.G. Blanchard.

During the year 1868 there were demonstrations and strikes throughout the country, culminating in a demonstration on May Day (May 1) 1886. In Chicago police killed six striking workers. The next day, at a demonstration in Haymarket Square to protest the killings, a bomb exploded in the middle of a crowd of police, killing eight of them. The police arrested eight anarchists in the unions, four of whom were hanged. However, there is still speculation that the police planted the bomb.

Despite union efforts, the eight hour day was not established in the United Sates until 1938 with the passage of the Wage and Hour Law.

In Songs of Work and Protest Edith Fowke has another version of the song, The Eight Hour Day. It originated among miners and was set to the tune of The British Grenadiers. She states that it was probably used during their strike in 1897.

We mean to make things over,
We are tired of toil for naught
With but bare enough to live upon
And ne'er an hour for thought.
We want to feel the sunshine
And we want to smell the flow'rs
We are sure that God has willed it
And we mean to have eight hours;
We're summoning our forces
From the shipyard, shop and mill

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest
Eight hours for what we will;
Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest
Eight hours for what we will.


The beasts that graze the hillside,
And the birds that wander free,
In the life that God has meted,
Have a better life than we.
Oh, hands and hearts are weary,
And homes are heavy with dole;
If our life's to be filled with drudg'ry,
What need of a human soul.
Shout, shout the lusty rally,
From shipyard, shop, and mill.

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest
Eight hours for what we will;
Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest
Eight hours for what we will.


The voice of God within us
Is calling us to stand
Erect as is becoming
To the work of His right hand.
Should he, to whom the Maker
His glorious image gave,
The meanest of His creatures crouch,
A bread-and-butter slave?
Let the shout ring down the valleys
And echo from every hill.

Ye deem they're feeble voices
That are raised in labor's cause,
But bethink ye of the torrent,
And the wild tornado's laws.
We say not toil's uprising
In terror's shape will come,
Yet the world were wise to listen
To the monetary hum.
Soon, soon the deep toned rally
Shall all the nations thrill.

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest
Eight hours for what we will;
Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest
Eight hours for what we will.


From factories and workshops
In long and weary lines,
From all the sweltering forges,
And from out the sunless mines,
Wherever toil is wasting
The force of life to live
There the bent and battered armies
Come to claim what God doth give
And the blazon on the banner
Doth with hope the nation fill:

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest
Eight hours for what we will;
Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest
Eight hours for what we will.


Hurrah, hurrah for labor,
For it shall arise in might
It has filled the world with plenty,
It shall fill the world with light
Hurrah, hurrah for labor,
It is mustering all its powers
And shall march along to victory
With the banner of Eight Hours.
Shout, shout the echoing rally
Till all the welkin thrill.

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest
Eight hours for what we will;
Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest
Eight hours for what we will.


Related Links
From The Fireside Book of Favorite American Songs and
Songs of Work and Protest
See Bibliography for full information.