• Robert Spicer

Emma Goldman on workers’ rights

Emma Goldman (1869-1940)

The young Emma Goldman poured scorn on the inadequacy of campaigning for an eight-hour day. She aimed to expose the capitalist system and demanded its complete overthrow. The eight-hour day was a diversion.

An old worker said that he understood her impatience with such small demands of a few hours less a day, or a few dollars more a week. It was legitimate for young people to take time lightly. But what were men of his age to do? They were not likely to live to see the ultimate overthrow of the capitalist system. Were they also to forgo the release of perhaps two hours a day from the hated work? That was all they could hope to see realised in their lifetime. Should they deny themselves even that small achievement? Should they never have a little more time for reading or being out in the open? Why not be fair to people chained to the block?

Goldman realised that specific efforts for improvement – higher wages, shorter hours and the rest – were part of the revolutionary transformation of society which she believed necessary.

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