Why do we have weekends?

While many workers now enjoy weekends won by organized labor, the fight continues for those who don’t. 


Ladies and gentlemen…the weekend. Why do we have it? 

The short answer: unions!

In the late nineteenth century, many workers labored 7 days a week, sometimes up to a grueling 100 hours in poor conditions.

Workers were fed up. Many began to unionize and take to the streets in protest.

Violence against them at the hands of corporate union busters and law enforcement was common. Many lost their lives. But they didn’t relent. 

Organized labor kept up the pressure. Workers in the mining, printing, and railroad industries eventually won 8-hour-work days. Major corporations, most notably Ford Motor Company, began to heed calls to institute 5-day work weeks.

But most workers across the country were not guaranteed these benefits. 

Then came Frances Perkins — President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Labor Secretary and the first woman cabinet secretary.

Before agreeing to the position, Perkins met with FDR to secure a guarantee that he would support her pro-labor agenda.To her surprise, FDR backed her.

In 1938, thanks to her advocacy and the momentum built by organized labor, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act — which among many things ultimately established a 40-hour work week by forcing employers to pay time and a half for any hours worked beyond this limit.

And thus, created the weekend. 

While many workers now enjoy weekends won by organized labor, the fight continues for those who don’t. 

rising number of contract employees, sometimes known as “gig workers,” are putting in backbreaking hours without the protections afforded to full-time workers.

Now is the time to renew the historic call of unions to make sure ALL workers are afforded the dignity — and time off from work — they deserve. 

And who knows — maybe one day we’ll move to a three day weekend? 


If you liked this article, please donate $5 to keep NationofChange online through November.

Previous articleTwenty-first century socialism: what it will become and why
Next article300+ economists, millionaires, and elected officials to G20: ‘Tax extreme wealth’
Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fourteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "Saving Capitalism." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, co-founder of the nonprofit Inequality Media and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, Inequality for All.