On May 1, 1886, in booming, industrial Chicago, at least 30,000 workers walked off the job in what would become one of the most famous rallies for a shorter workweek in America. The shutdown left the usually smoke-filled skies eerily clear. The “great refusal,” as it is sometimes known, ultimately resulted in a confrontation a few days later between police and protesters that left several people on both sides dead. In a courtroom spectacle, eight demonstrators were convicted of murder, and seven of those eight were sentenced to death. One killed himself in jail and four were hanged in public.
Still, protests continued, as did bloodshed, until the passing of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 enshrined the modern weekend for all workers. Americans had finally achieved the promise of an eight-hour day and 40-hour workweek, a buttress against the Industrial Revolution’s crippling workload.
Less than a century later, however, the weekend has been eroded by overbooked schedules, pinging devices and encroaching work demands. It took decades for American workers to wrest a precious fraction of their week’s hours away from the iron grip of the factory boss. Yet for many of today’s workers, the concept of 48 work-free hours is an anachronism. The weekend as it was originally envisioned is being lost.
Importantly, while the weekend is a relatively new invention, the five-day workweek was not a solely altruistic creation. Henry Ford was an early adopter of the five-day workweek after realizing that a weekend could both keep workers happy and give them an incentive to spend — which might make him even more money. “People who have more leisure must have more clothes,” he said. “They eat a greater variety of food. They require more transportation in vehicles.”
Read more at NBC.