Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Joshua B. Freeman

Committee Members

Andrew Gordon

Blanche Wiesen Cook

Gerald Markowitz

Subject Categories

American Politics | Arts and Humanities | Asian History | Collective Bargaining | Comparative Politics | History of Gender | International and Comparative Labor Relations | Japanese Studies | Labor and Employment Law | Labor History | Legal | Other American Studies | Political History | Politics and Social Change | Quantitative, Qualitative, Comparative, and Historical Methodologies | Race and Ethnicity | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social History | Social Policy | Social Statistics | Social Welfare | Unions | United States History | Work, Economy and Organizations


work-time regulation, shorter hours movement, Fair Labor Standards Act, labor politics, United States history, Japanese history


Shorter working hours drew much attention as a means of fighting unemployment and crisis in capitalism during the first half of the twentieth century. Nowadays, shorter work-time is rarely considered a policy option to fix economic or social issues in the United States and Japan. This dissertation presents a history of work-time regulation in the United States and Japan to examine how and why its developments and stalemate took place.

In the big picture, developments of work-time regulation during the first half of the twentieth century were a part of concessional modifications of class relations, a common phenomenon in many industrialized societies. In the United States, the concept of shorter hours played an important role in shaping the labor movement. During the Great Depression, and even after the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the demand for shorter hours to reduce unemployment and expand purchasing power gained popularity and stringency in political discourse. In prewar Japan, state bureaucrats who were concerned with proletarian radicalization led the development of the Factory Act. The experience of class tensions in the Taisho period strengthened the state's attention to work-time regulation. Conservative politics that had tried to challenge the postwar settlement, including the Labor Standard Act of 1947, met massive oppositions during the 1950s.

In the postwar high growth period, however, little progress was made in shortening the legal standard for hours in either country. The legal framework for the 40-hour workweek has been firmly entrenched in American work culture and labor relations, despite ever growing productivity. The shaping of corporate-centered society, a unique form of sociopolitical order, accounts for the political stalemates. After World War II, the American workers in the "core" industrial sectors, who heavily relied on corporate welfare, including a seniority-based long-term employment, withdrew from the political movement. The rise of sociopolitical forces indifferent or antagonistic to shorter hours, even among labor and liberal communities, doomed attempts at amending the Fair Labor Standards Act to reduce the workweek standard. In the 1960s and the 1970s, shorter-hours advocacies gained new audiences in the "periphery" of corporate-centered society. Women, racial minorities, and workers in less prosperous sectors formed a new movement and won the expansion of FLSA coverage. Any serious attempts to reduce the legal workweek, however, dissipated by the 1980s. In postwar Japan, the 40-hour-week law had been postponed for four decades. Japanese-style management, the core mechanism of economic growth and social integration in Japanese corporate-centered society, required male workers to devote their lives to the company in return for life-time employment, seniority-based wage and other corporate welfare. Indifference to shorter hours among the mainstream labor movement met some challenges from the "periphery" after the 1970s, but neoliberal revisions eventually overshadowed the 40-hour standard established in 1987.