The Feudal System/Labor Day


From Les Très Riches Heures 15th c. French illuminated manuscript

Ten Fingers Touching takes place during the Middle Ages where life was hard under the feudal system. Nobles were granted land by the King in exchange for their loyalty and protection. Peasants worked for the lords, laboring in their fields. They were bound to the land, paid high rents and were beholden to the nobles who protected them. Peasants were also required to pay a tax in cash or in kind (e.g., seeds) to the church. They were poor, conditions were harsh and there were no laws to protect them.

Fast forward to the 19th century. Working conditions were dangerous, and the average laborer was underpaid and worked 10- 16 hours per day.  The eight-hour day was envisioned by Robert Owen, a Welsh-born social reformer who coined the  slogan: 8 hours labour, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours rest (1817).

One of the first companies to implement the 8-hour work day in the U.S. was the Ford Motor Company.  In 1914, Henry Ford cut the working day to 8 hours and also doubled the worker’s pay.  The auto company’s productivity, employee loyalty and profit margin soared.

We just celebrated Labor Day, a holiday that recognizes the social and economic achievements of American workers.  While proud of our unparalleled prosperity, let’s still be mindful of the inequalities in our workforce.

Women represent almost half the workers in the U.S., but they earn considerably less than men in almost every occupation. A woman makes 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man representing a 22 percent wage gap. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “the poverty rate for working women would be cut in half if women were paid the same as comparable men.”

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