The history of the Labour Day, or International Workers' Day, goes back to May 1, 1886. On this day, labour unions in the United States of America decided to go on a strike with the demand that workers should not be allowed to work more than 8 hours a day.
Nigerian workers under the aegis of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade union Congress (TUC) Tuesday joined their counterparts across the world to celebrate this year's May Day. Workers day celebration around the globe today is that of mixed feelings as it leaves workers with a bitter sweet tale of today’s realities. Growing concerns were raised today of the plight of workers around the globe today.
In an article written by Jeff Nilsson; “Why Did Henry Ford Double His Minimum Wage?” in 1914, Henry Ford made a big announcement that shocked the country. It caused the financial editor at The New York Times to stagger into the newsroom and ask his staff in a stunned whisper, “He’s crazy, isn’t he? Don’t you think he’s crazy?”
That morning, Ford would begin paying his employees $5.00 a day, over twice the average wage for automakers in 1914. In addition, he was reducing the work day from 9 hours to 8 hours, a significant drop from the 60-hour work week that was the standard in American manufacturing.
A young reporter from the Times travelled to Detroit to learn more about this revolutionary move. His name was Edward Peter Garrett, but he wrote under the name Garet Garrett, which was how Post readers knew him when he was the magazine’s financial writer between 1922 and 1942.
Arriving in Detroit, Garrett found the city’s manufacturers panicking and predicting various disasters. The higher wages would cause other employers to leave the city, they said. Carmakers who remained and tried to match Ford’s wages would go bankrupt. Ford employees would be “demoralized by this sudden affluence,” and, of course, Ford Motor Company would soon be bankrupt.
Fortunately, Garrett was able to get an audience with Henry Ford and, over the course of two days, discuss the company’s revolutionary changes. He wrote of his extended interview with Ford in a 1952 book, The Wild Wheel. He recalled asking Ford why he raised wages when every other manufacturer was trying to reduce wages to the lowest acceptable figure. Ford believed he was buying higher quality work from all his employees. “If the floor sweeper’s heart is in his job he can save us five dollars a day by picking up small tools instead of sweeping them out.”
Higher wages were necessary, Ford realized, to retain workers who could handle the pressure and the monotony of his assembly line. In January of 1914, his continuous-motion system reduced the time to build a car from 12 and a half hours to 93 minutes. But the pace and repetitiveness of the jobs was so demanding, many workers found themselves unable to withstand it for eight hours a day, no matter how much they were paid.
But Ford had an even bigger reason for raising his wages, which he noted in a 1926 book, Today and Tomorrow. It’s as a challenging a statement today as it has been 100 years ago. “The owner, the employees, and the buying public are all one and the same, and unless an industry can so manage itself as to keep wages high and prices low it destroys itself, for otherwise it limits the number of its customers. One’s own employees ought to be one’s own best customers.”
As we reflect on today’s workers day may his words remind us on our collective shared humanity and the need to treat everyone with just and fairness".
Happy Workers day