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Florence Kelley and the Illinois Sweatshop Law

Document 5

COMPULSORY EIGHT-HOUR LAW IMPOSSIBLE

      The bill in question provides that after July 1 of this year eight hours of labor between the rising and setting of the sun shall be a legal day's work in all mechanical trades, arts, and employments, whether the work is done for private individuals or for the public.  The hours of labor are to be between 8 and 5, except when an agreement is made to work men in relays or shifts.  Both those who agree to work more than eight hours a day and those with whom the agreement is made are liable for the first offense to a fine not exceeding a hundred dollars. Hardened offenders may be both fined and jailed for not more than a year.

      Were such a bill to pass, the Supreme Court would snuff it out contemptuously. For that reason it is doubtful whether the Legislature will be guilty of passing such an absurd measure. The Supreme Court would declare it unconstitutional, because the Legislature has no right to dictate to a man at what he shall work, how long he shall work, or what pay he shall get for his work. In this country all those things are outside the jurisdiction of the State.  The Legislature can regulate the hours of work of minors. It can prevent their employment in hazardous occupations. It can also regulate workshops, factories, and mines in order to secure the health or life of those working in them. There its power stops.

 -- "Compulsory Eight-Hour Law Impossible," Chicago Tribune, 5 January 1893

7. According to the writer of this newspaper article, why is the bill regulating hours of work "absurd?"

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