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The Story of Bill McGaughey’s Involvement with this Issue


the early years

William Howard Taft (“Bill”) McGaughey, Jr. (named for his father who was born in the presidential election year of 1912) has been a long-time advocate of shorter working hours.

Bill McGaughey was first exposed to this idea in 1957 when he attended a Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP) camp for American high school students in Deep Springs, California, in the desert immediately north of Death Valley National Park. The program combined study with other activities. In an informal discussion with McGaughey one day, a fellow student named Robert Mogielnicki outlined the prospect of an economy where machines increasingly did the work that human workers now handle. As labor productivity improved, fewer workers would be needed to handle economic functions, putting a squeeze on employment opportunities. A possible solution would be to cut work schedules to a point where production needs and wants were in balance. Even if machines could handle ninety percent of the productive work, humans would be needed for the remaining ten percent. The government could cut the workweek accordingly.

McGaughey was intrigued by this idea. It remained in his mind years later when he became involved with the Young Republican League of Minnesota. McGaughey had grown up in Michigan but had moved to Minnesota in 1965 after graduating from college. The Young Republican League in 1966 or 1967 decided to encourage its members to undertake research projects that might develop into policy proposals for the Republican party. McGaughey, a member, decided to explore the idea that shorter working hours could become a tool to cut unemployment. If the demand for labor was insufficient to support a 40-hour week, full employment might be achieved at a lower level of weekly hours.

The reason that McGaughey had joined the Young Republican League of Minnesota then was that he wished to support the presidential candidacy of George Romney, then Governor of Michigan. His father, William McGaughey, had been vice president of American Motors Corporation in charge of communications when Romney was CEO. The two men had worked closely together for more than twenty years. Also, Bill Jr. had gone to a summer camp in Canada with Romney’s older son, Scott, in the summer of 1953. Three years later, they had also taken electrical-wiring and welding classes together at Cass Technical High School in Detroit. In any event, the idea that his father’s former colleague and continuing friend was a serious contender for the Presidency was immensely exciting to young Bill McGaughey.

It was not to be, however. Governor George Romney, once a Presidential front runner among Republicans, faded in popularity after suggesting that he had been “brainwashed” by the Johnson administration with respect to the Vietnam war. As polls showed that Richard Nixon would win the New Hampshire Republican primary by a landslide, Romney ended his presidential campaign in late February 1968. Also, the Young Republican League research project never materialized, at least not with McGaughey’s participation. It was time for him to focus instead on paid employment.

Bill McGaughey had decided to go into accounting. After graduating from Yale in 1964, he was briefly enrolled in an MBA program at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey; but then he impulsively decided to drop out of the program to seek immediate employment in Minnesota. He arrived in that state in January 1965 and found an accounting job with the Minnesota Department of Welfare two months later. He worked there for a year and then quit his job, intending to become a writer. He also invented and patented a board game.

But those activities did not pay the rent so McGaughey took accounting courses at the University of Minnesota in preparation for taking the CPA exam. By some miracle, he took and passed the exam in November 1971. He spent six months in 1972 working for a CPA firm in Minneapolis. In the following year, he got married. Then, in January 1974, he began working in a cost-accounting position at American Hoist and Derrick Company in St. Paul, Minnesota. Bill McGaughey was there for the next five years.

McGaughey’s accounting interests somehow led him back to the shorter-workweek issue. He visited the main public library in St. Paul, browsed through books and magazines, took materials out, and compiled pertinent articles and information. His interest focused upon the relationship between economic output, employment, productivity, and working hours. McGaughey compiled his own tables from information obtained at the library. In 1976, he personally did a survey of working hours questioning fifty to one hundred persons in the St. Paul suburbs. He became a self-taught expert in this field.

a bill in Congress

In the meanwhile, McGaughey started a community-based organization to support shorter working hours which he called “General Committee for a Shorter Workweek”. The name was chosen because union members in Detroit and elsewhere had formed an organization called “All Unions Committee for a Shorter Workweek”. Its leader was Frank Runnels, head of UAW local #22. This group held a rally in Dearborn, Michigan, in April 1978 which attracted 700 participants including the UAW president, Douglas Fraser, and a member of Congress, John Conyers. Representative Conyers was persuaded to introduce a bill in Congress, HR-11784, which proposed to reduce the standard workweek to 35 hours over a four-year period, increase the rate of overtime pay to double time, and prohibit mandatory overtime.

Bill McGaughey, an accountant, became an enthusiastic supporter of those efforts. Ironically, his father was then senior vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, an organization that had vigorously opposed the shorter-workweek agenda in the early 20th century and had continued to oppose this measure. But he was also tolerant of his eldest son’s efforts. By coincidence, Representative John Conyers lived in the same residential complex, “Harbour Square”, as the elder McGaugheys. Another resident (except when he lived in the Vice President’s mansion) was U.S. Senator Hubert Humphrey. The younger Bill McGaughey often visited his parents in Washington D.C. before they moved from that city in the mid 1980s.

The union-based campaign for shorter hours came to a head in 1979. The All Unions Committee held a rally in Washington, D.C., in April 1979, at which it was announced that hearings on the Conyers bill would be held in the House Labor and Education Committee in October of that year. By this time, thirteen members of the House had become cosponsors. Some saw shorter-workweek legislation as a way to achieve the goal of the Humphrey-Hawkins bill (a.k.a. “the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act”, enacted a year earlier, which had made full employment a priority of the federal government.

The three-day hearing on HR-11784 opened on October 23, 1979. Bill McGaughey, having recently lost his job at American Hoist, was able to attend the entire hearing. The first day was given to testimony from proponents of this legislation, who included Rep. James Oberstar from northern Minnesota and the mayor of Detroit, Coleman Young. The second day featured testimony from opponents of the bill, mainly representatives of business interests. On the third day, academic experts including Professor Wassily Leontief of NYU, winner of the 1973 Nobel prize in economics, spoke for and against the legislation. Leontief supported it. That was the high water mark of union-supported legislation in this area. There were no Senate sponsors.

Bill McGaughey had first met Rep. Conyers and his assistant Neil Kotler when they came to St. Paul, Minnesota, to participate in a conference at Concordia college. After the hearing, he often visited the Congressman’s office. In the early 1980s, Rep. Conyers introduced another bill, HR-1784, which called for a 32-hour workweek, lending itself to the establishment of four eight-hour days per week. This later bill did not receive hearings. However, another of his legislative ventures did succeed. Conyers was the chief House sponsor of the Martin Luther King holiday bill, which President Reagan signed into law in 1983.

McGaughey wrote a number of articles on work-time issues during this period that were published in major newspapers. The New York Times published one of his articles on November 13, 1979, a short time after the Congressional hearings. The Los Angeles Times published another on June 25, 1982. There were also articles in the Christian Science Monitor, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and (Minneapolis) Star Tribune. Additionally, Rep. Conyers put several of McGaughey’s writings on work time in the Congressional Record. McGaughey also did several radio interviews on this subject including one on the Diane Rehm show in Washington, D.C. at the time of the 1982 labor rally in that city.

a book

In the meanwhile, McGaughey’s writings had progressed to the point that he was able to self-publish a book. He established his own publishing firm by the name of Thistlerose Publications. Its first publication, A Shorter Workweek in the 1980s, came out in 1981. Rep. John Conyers contributed a foreword. The book was promoted primarily by a mailing to academics involved with labor issues. Several hundred copies were sold this way. Eventually book wholesalers ordered copies. Even though sales were modest by commercial standards, the book did achieve a certain influence among persons attuned to such issues.

A Shorter Workweek in the 1980s reflected authorship by an accountant. Drawing upon information in Monthly Labor Review and other Department of Labor sources, it contained much statistical information about working hours. Most of the standard arguments for and against the idea of reducing work time to bolster employment were included in the book. Separate chapters dealt exclusively with the following objections: 1. The shorter workweek must wait until productivity improves. 2. Workers have chosen to increase their incomes rather than have more time off from work. 3. To reduce the workweek would aggravate inflation.

An “Acknowledgment” section in the book provides a glimpse into McGaughey’s life at this time. He wrote:

“My first efforts to gather information about working hours were made as a prospective member of an issues study group sponsored by the Young Republican League of Minnesota. For a time I was convinced that the shorter-workweek issue was a Republican issue. It would bring full employment without a need for massive government spending, would cut welfare costs, and revitalize the private sector. I apparently was alone in my enthusiasm for this particular recommendation.

Eventually, the temptations of single-issue politics won out, and I was moved to make common cause with persons whose political views might once have seemed disagreeable. Through a series of public meetings we formed a group which calls itself “General Committee for a Shorter Workweek.” This organization has been meeting regularly at one or another branch of the Minneapolis public library for the past two and a half years.

I first met Rep. John Conyers and his legislative assistant, Neil Kotler, at a day-long conference on full employment held in St. Paul in October 1978. They were kind to take our self-generated activities seriously, and so to connect us with events that were unfolding nationally.

In April 1979, I attended the National All Unions Conference and Legislative Lobby in Washington, D.C., and there met Frank Runnels, Henry Foner, Fred Gaboury, and others who were spearheading the union drive for shorter hours. Many of us were back again in October to attend the House subcommittee hearings on H.R. 1784, where we watched the opposition busily save the nation from full employment.

A personal bout with unemployment during the past year gave me the opportunity to set these thoughts to paper in a more organized way.”

McGaughey’s Twin Cities group, General Committee for a Shorter Workweek, ceased operations after the 1970s. The group held regular meetings, attracting a dozen participants at its peak. It also sponsored a public walk around Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis that received some media attention. Before he was elected to the U.S. Senate, Paul Wellstone was loosely affiliated with this group. He and McGaughey, who both worked in the same building for two years, had lunch together several times. But Wellstone, once elected, was loath to push for something that lacked popular support.

Eugene McCarthy

In 1982, former U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy decided to run for his old seat in the Senate. Having read about McCarthy’s campaign in the newspaper, Bill McGaughey contacted the campaign staff. To his surprise, he was told that the Senator wanted to have lunch with him.

And so McCarthy and McGaughey became personally acquired. The latter offered to organize a campaign event at the Labor Center in St. Paul where candidate McCarthy would present his ideas related to working hours. A professionally designed poster was created for this event. Dozens of copies were printed and distributed around town. The event was a success. Bill McGaughey later accompanied McCarthy and key supporters to an event at St. John’s University in Collegeville where McCarthy had once prepared to become a monk. However, Mark Dayton, an heir to the Dayton’s department-store (Target Corp.) fortune, went on to beat him in the DFL primary. The Republican incumbent, Dave Durenberger, won the general election.

Thanks in part to the fact that his parents lived in Washington, D.C., Bill McGaughey was able to maintain a personal relationship with the former Senator that bore fruit in the 1989 publication of a book. McCarthy was then living in Woodville, Virginia, in Rappahannock county southwest of Washington, D.C. but, as a director of Harcourt Brace, he often spent time in the nation’s capitol. McCarthy visited the condominium of McGaughey’s parents at Harbour Square and the two had lunch together in downtown restaurants. Out of these visits came interest in jointly producing a book about work time. McCarthy had ideas about leisure and economic waste; McGaughey was more the numbers man.

McCarthy’s and McGaughey’s book, published by Praeger, was titled “Nonfinancial Economics: The Case for Shorter Hours of Work”. A prominent theme was the idea that the U.S. economy, having satisfied basic needs, was increasingly focused upon what the authors called “economic waste”, referring to products that ceased to satisfy human needs or enrich the experience of living but were instead to be regarded, at best, as “necessary evils”. Sectors of economic growth such as gambling, crime, the criminal-justice system, wars, commercial advertising, and the medical industry were examples of this output. The general idea was that we would all be better off curtailing production of such things and simply spend time in doing as we pleased. And, of course, numerical arguments were made to explain the concepts.

When the book came out in 1989, it was not a commercial success. For one thing, the purchase price of $55.00 per copy was a bit on the expensive side. For another, there was little or no promotion. Even so, McGaughey felt it was a great honor to have coauthored a book on his favorite subject with Senator McCarthy. After eight years of the Reagan administration, the political winds were not favorable to their policy proposal but one never knows what may be the situation in coming years.

The irony was that McGaughey, who had originally pushed the shorter-workweek idea in the context of Republican politics, was finding support mainly from Democrats. And, with the tide running out on this issue in the Reagan years, it was only a few unusually dedicated and brave Democrats who would support the cause.

A second irony in this case was that McGaughey’s first great hope, the election of George Romney as president, was torpedoed through the efforts of partisan Democrats such as Senator McCarthy. It was he, after all, who had wickedly commented on Romney’s self-admission of “brainwashing” that this procedure was unnecessary; a “light rinse” might have been sufficient to change Romney’s mind. But now all was forgotten and forgiven. George Romney himself seemed to take it in stride when McGaughey’s father wrote his former colleague and boss about his son’s recently formed relationship with Eugene McCarthy.

the whirlwind events of 1991

As the final decade of the 20th century approached, Bill McGaughey was becoming acquainted with members of UAW local 879 in St. Paul, especially its president Tom Laney. He had first heard of him from Paul Wellstone. Laney was an enterprising man in addition to being a staunch trade unionist.

Invited to his house for a Christmas party, McGaughey met Jose Quintana, another member of Local 879, who had stories to tell about the labor situation in Mexico. Workers there were organized in a giant labor confederation called the “Confederation of Mexican Workers” or “Confederación de Trabajadores de México” (CTM), which was closely associated with Mexico’s ruling party. Its leader, Fidel Velázquez, an authoritarian type, had been in office for fifty years.

Workers at Ford’s Cuautitlan assembly plant near Mexico City had been protesting their work conditions. The government intervened and a worker named Clito Nigno was shot and killed. More protests ensued. The Cuautitlan workers wore black ribbons in memory of their fallen associate.

Tom Laney had the idea of organizing a conference in St. Paul at the end of January 1991 to discuss the labor situation in Mexico. Three representatives of the workers’ opposition union had applied to come to the United States to testify about the situation at the Cuautitlan Ford plant. In addition, trade unionists from Canada and the United States were invited to attend, showing continental solidarity with their Mexican brothers. After pulling some strings, Laney got approval for the Mexican union leaders to enter the country and attend the conference.

The three-day conference, titled “Competition vs. Solidarity in an Era of Free Trade”, was held at Macalester College in St. Paul. Although the Mexican trade unionists were the featured speakers, many other labor activists also attended including Joe Fahey from California, Jack Hedrick from Missouri, and Mary McGinn and Matt Witt from Labor Notes in Michigan. Another participant was Mark Ritchie, founder of the Institute for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and later Minnesota’s Secretary of State. Out of this conference came the formation of a new organization that became known as the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition. A charter member, Bill McGaughey attended most of its meetings during 1991 and 1992.

The year 1991 was a whirlwind of trade-related activities. Group representatives including McGaughey met with Minnesota Secretary of State, Skip Humphrey, shortly before Humphrey’s scheduled trip to Mexico with a human-rights delegation. They held a press conference featuring Senator Wellstone to express opposition to NAFTA fast-track extension. In the second week of April, McGaughey and others piled into a rented van to attend public hearings of the U.S. International Trade Commission and offer public testimony. Then, two weeks later, it was off to the annual Labor Notes conference in Dearborn, Michigan, where trade policies and practices were a hot topic. Their Mexican friends from the January conference also attended.

Bill McGaughey had done some quick research on U.S. trade policies and practices. From this, he learned that any citizen could file a petition with a committee in the U.S. Trade Representative’s office challenging a country’s right to receive trade benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences if the country violated internationally recognized worker rights. Mexico was such a country. Tom Laney, Jose Quintana, and McGaughey decided to make the challenge. With videotaped testimony from their three Mexican friends and a written summary of arguments, they prepared a lengthy petition outlining the reasons why trade preferences should be revoked in Mexico’s case and sent this and twenty copies to the trade representative’s office. It was in the mail by May 15th.

The whirlwind of activities continued. A letter arrived requesting volunteers to be international observers at a court-ordered union election at the Cuautitlan Ford plant in Mexico City on June 3, 1991. McGaughey decided to answer the call. Paul Wellstone’s Senate office obligingly supplied him with a letter signed by the Senator which asked for a full report of his observations in Mexico. A member of UAW local #879, Skip Pepin, and he were the only foreign observers.

Together with local trade unionists, the two Americans from Minnesota waited twenty hours outside the plant gates of the Ford plant in anticipation of the election results as the independent union’s supporters made speeches and shouted slogans in the presence of 2,000 heavily armed police. In the end, the incumbent government-sponsored union, CTM, won reelection by a margin of 1,325 to 1,112 votes amid rumors of fraud. With Matt Witt’s help, McGaughey filed his report to Senator Wellstone. There was also an opportunity, on the following day, to meet with members of an independent labor federation, Frente Autentico Trabajo, to learn their opinion of the matter.

In August, Bill McGaughey drove east to see his parents and visit with labor activists in Boston and New York City. He also visited Congressional offices, the AFL-CIO, the International Labor Office, and the International Labor Rights Education and Research Fund in Washington, D.C. While in Washington, he learned that his, Laney’s, and Quintana’s petition to end Mexico’s benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences had been denied. This was not a surprise.

The Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition hosted a national conference on free trade in the first week of September. Some people McGaughey had met at the Frente Autentico Trabajo in Mexico City were in attendance along with Lori Wallach of Public Citizen, Jerry Tucker of UAW New Directions, Bob Ages of Winnipeg, and Dan Leahy of Olympia, Washington. The conference, arranged by professor Peter Rachleff, was again held at Macalester College in the Weyerhauser chapel.

The featured speaker was Bishop Tom Gumbleton of Detroit, known to have radical views. The purpose of this conference was to create a national organization. If so, the conference failed; but it did bring together persons from several parts of the country who later organized trade-related activities in their own communities. Public Citizen, in particular, assumed an active role in the opposition to free trade.

That fall, the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition formalized its organization, establishing committees and receiving an infusion of fresh blood. With the help of a group of housing advocates “Up and Out of Poverty St. Paul”, its members picketed the headquarters of Green Giant to protest the failure to install waste-water treatment facilities at their food-processing plan in Irapuato, Mexico, and in the process learned that the company planned to install the long-promised facilities in early 1992. A month later, in subzero temperatures, trade activists attended a Christmas open-house at the Minnesota governor’s mansion and had some emotionally charged, colorful exchanges with the governor himself.

In October, Raul Escobar came up from Mexico to address the Minnesota AFL-CIO state convention. He stayed at the Laney home. Bill McGaughey recalls that he gave dinner guests an informal Spanish lesson at dinner one evening. Tom Laney called Escobar a “cine estrella” (movie star) after watching his dynamic convention performance on videotape.

Tom Laney and Rod Haworth and Ted La Valley, fellow members of UAW Local #879, and Bill McGaughey attended yet another two-day conference on the North American Free Trade Agreement at the Minneapolis convention center in late November. Contrary to earlier expectations, this conference was unique in providing a balance of views between supporters and opponents of the proposed trade agreement. It was here that McGaughey first met Pharis Harvey of the International Labor Rights Education and Research Fund and Thea Lee, currently Deputy Chief of Staff at the national AFL-CIO.

A US-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement (another book)

Throughout 1991, Bill McGaughey was compiling materials for a book on trade. Principal sources of information included photocopies of papers on related subjects compiled by Jose Quintana, Canadian Dimension magazine, an advance copy of the manuscript for Dan LaBotz’s prospective book A Strangling Embrace, David Morris’ The Trade Papers, assorted newspaper articles and other materials.

All this information was pieced together in a self-published book that combined discussion of the forthcoming North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA), background information about the economies of Mexico and Canada, a general discussion of “business totalitarianism”, and speculations regarding an alternative to free trade. The writing was complete in December 1991, and the book itself was published in February 1992.

McGaughey’s book may well have been the first anti-NAFTA book to hit the market. It sold reasonably well and was often ordered and reordered by book wholesalers selling to libraries and book stores. The title was A US-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement: Do We Just Say No? (At this point, the term NAFTA was not yet in common use.) McGaughey once attended a speech on trade issues by a union spokesman who told him that, when she was first hired, she was given a copy of this book to read. But McGaughey himself had little role in the public discussions that took place in the months and years leading up to NAFTA’s approval by the U.S. Senate in 1993.

Bill Clinton deals with trade issues

The previous year, 1992, was a Presidential-election year. Candidate Bill Clinton came to Minneapolis in April. Being a gregarious type, he hung around after his speech in Peavey plaza to shake hands with people. As Clinton approached, Bill McGaughey handed him a copy of A US-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement. The presidential candidate seemed startled by this move and quickly moved on to other people. Afterwards, however, a woman came back to McGaughey asking him to write his name and address on a slip of paper. A short time later, not one but two thank-you letters arrived from the Clinton campaign, promising that, if elected, Bill Clinton would read the book in the White House.

If that were not enough, Bill Clinton came back to Minneapolis to campaign after the Democratic convention accompanied by his vice presidential pick, Al Gore. Again, Bill McGaughey was in the crowd carrying a copy of his book which he intended to give to Gore this time. But it was the gregarious Clinton rather than Gore who made the rounds shaking hands. Since Gore was unavailable, McGaughey again held out a copy of his book to Clinton. “No, thanks, I already have a copy,” the nominee said. “It’s an interesting book.”

The issue of North American trade did come up during the 1992 Presidential campaign. Candidate Bill Clinton announced his intention to address labor and environmental standards in a “side agreement” to NAFTA. A state AFL-CIO official later told McGaughey that the Clinton campaign had contacted the union headquarters trying to obtain a copy of the anti-NAFTA book. Evidently a woman in Colorado had heckled a Clinton campaign surrogate while referring to this book, but the Minnesota AFL-CIO was not in the loop with respect to its distribution.

After he became president, Bill Clinton was a strong supporter of NAFTA. Fast-tracked, the agreement was hotly debated in the U.S. Congress during 1993. President Clinton twisted arms to persuade members of Congress to support it. The U.S. House of Representatives approved its authorization by a 234 to 200 vote on November 17, 1993; and the Senate approved it three days later by a 61-to-32 vote margin. Bill Clinton signed the NAFTA implementation bill into law in December of that year.

hitting a rough patch

By this time, Bill McGaughey was bogged down with other concerns. His job now in jeopardy, he bought a nine-unit apartment building in Minneapolis in August 1993 and immediately ran into opposition from a neighborhood group that believed the building was crime-ridden. His mentally ill brother arrived for a visit in June, soon became hospitalized, and eventually was the focus of commitment efforts at a state hospital. McGaughey also met his future wife during this time when he was dealing with apartment-related problems. Through two sets of inspectors, the City of Minneapolis condemned the apartment building in April 1995 but McGaughey was able eventually to get the condemnation lifted by complying with their expensive work orders.

Meanwhile, his job as cost accountant with the Metropolitan Transit Commission came to an end in May 1996. That meant an end to income from paid employment and the beginning of support from rental income and existing financial resources. Accordingly, McGaughey’s political attention shifted from trade issues to a fight against city government that was threatening his livelihood. He became a landlord activist with a group called Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee. This involved a switch from left-of-center to right-of-center politics as commonly defined. In reality, it was a fight against a corrupt city government and the politics of gender and race played at the neighborhood level.

the idea of employer-specific tariffs

Even so, Bill McGaughey never completely abandoned his old interests. Trade policy and the shorter workweek never left his mind. When he attended a conference of UAW New Directions in St. Louis in 1992, he was approached by Don Fitz, editor of a Green Party publication called Synthesis /Regeneration, who proposed writing an article. This led to thoughts of the relationship between work hours and trade and to the idea that trade policies and practices could be coordinated with the effort to reduce hours. Shorter hours of work could become a standard associated with fair trade practices in a world economy that was continually improving in production efficiency.

It was the germ of a new idea. The idea was that trade policy could be used as a tool to reduce working hours, achieve full employment, and save the environment. Tariffs were a government-imposed cost that might offset cost savings from use of cheap foreign labor so that employment stability could be maintained despite competition from less expensive imported products. And so we could have trade competition along with stable markets and higher incomes in the developed economies. We could use tariffs to prevent employment in the developed countries from collapsing.

Tariffs were a good thing if used to facilitate an orderly transition to shorter work hours worldwide. But the tariffs had to be targeted to individual producers who made employment and price decisions. Thus the idea of employer-specific tariffs was born. A separate tariff rate would be set for individual employers depending upon the relationship of costs in the country of a product’s origin and place of consumption.

Though it sounds like a nightmare, McGaughey believed that computer technology made it practical to have such a system of tariffs, differentiated by employer. He outlined his proposal as an article for Synthesis/Regeneration, titled “A Model of Trade oriented toward Labor and the Environment”, that appeared in its sixth issue in the spring of 1993. This presented the idea of tariffs as a tool to promote desirable working conditions worldwide. A related article, “A Search for Labor-Standards Auditing in International Trade”, which appeared in the ninth issue of Synthesis/Regeneration in the winter of 1996, dealt with the factual determination and enforcement of labor standards pertaining to work hours in the international economy.

Together in these articles there was the germ of a system for regulating the world economy to develop in humanly desirable ways - that is, to give the worker a fair shake - while also minimizing damage to the natural environment through trade policy.

And so, McGaughey’s theoretical interests had come full circle from shorter working hours to international trade and back to hours in the context of regulated trade in a world economy. Economic policy now had to be considered on a global scale. But this idea was ahead of its time - assuming, of course, that the time would eventually come. There has as yet been no serious discussion of using trade policy and tariffs to promote higher labor standards, let alone a scheme that distinguishes between individual employers.

U.S. trade policy has continued to be dominated by corporate interests where the national representatives negotiated in secret and then released a text that could only be voted up or down during the short period of time allowed for deliberations. Members of Congress were not allowed to offer amendments. Yet, such procedures were acceptable both to Democratic and Republican administrations. Little could be done in this area.

advancing the idea in academic circles

In the meanwhile, the shorter-workweek issue had gained its second wind. In 1988 or 1989, William McGaughey, in a quixotic venture, had sent letters to several dozen top corporate leaders in the United States inviting them to a conference that to be held at a particular place and time in New York City for the purpose of discussing the possibility of establishing a shorter workweek in the near future. Even though there were no acceptances, McGaughey did receive replies from a number of these distinguished leaders including Ted Turner and Walter Annenberg. A dialogue of sorts had been established.

A year later, William McGaughey attended a conference at Hofstra University where he met David Macarov, a professor of social work at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who studied work and leisure. Another participant, John Neulinger, a professor of psychology at the City College of New York, had published an influential book in 1974, The Psychology of Leisure, and later cofounded an organization called Society for the Reduction of Human Labor. He edited its newsletter. When Neulinger suddenly died in June 1991, Macarov asked McGaughey and University of Iowa leisure-studies professor, Benjamin K. Hunnicutt, to take over this project. The newsletter continued for a time under Hunnicutt’s direction.

In 1992, Professor Juliet Schor of Harvard published a best-selling book, The Overworked American: the Unexpected Decline of Leisure. It included quotations from business leaders whom McGaughey had queried. Schor’s book put this long-neglected issue back on the map of serious discussion although corporate America was not about to change course.

Professor Benjamin Hunnicutt organized a conference on work and leisure at the University of Iowa about this time at which William McGaughey was a featured speaker. Unsure of the route fromMinneapolis to Iowa City, McGaughey recalls that he arrived at the conference after it had begun and had quickly to change clothes before going up on the stage. There was a dinner after the program where the participants became acquainted.

Then, in 1996, Hunnicutt organized an even more ambitious conference, again at the University of Iowa, which included participation by such luminaries as sister Helen Prejean, Eugene McCarthy, Jerry Tucker of UAW New Directions, and Betty Friedan. At this conference, Bill McGaughey proposed, and the group accepted, the idea that the group issue a statement calling for a four-day, 32-hour workweek by the year 2000. This became known as the Iowa City Declaration. Another participant, Robert Bernstein, gave the group a valuable resource in establishing a shorter-worktime discussion list at Twenty years later, it has continued among 86 active participants.

Ben Hunnicutt put together a third conference at the University of Iowa in 2012 which Bill McGaughey again attended. Juliet Schor was the principal speaker. Hunnicutt was then writing a book, Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream, published in 2013, which related this political issue to Walt Whitman’s idea of “higher progress” and other ideals of a free society. Documentary maker John de Graaf also attended. However, there were no calls for immediate political action.

thrown into the political arena

Bill McGaughey’s interests had shifted, in the first decade of the 21st century, away from the shorter-workweek issue to concerns related to his real-estate business and to electoral politics. After his apartment building was condemned, he had become deeply involved in activities of the Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee, a politically militant group. Its activity peaked in 1998 and 1999 when the group stormed and then shut down a meeting of the Minneapolis city council on the Friday before Reform Party candidate Jesse Ventura was elected Governor of Minnesota.

Then, in 2001, the rampaging landlords, long seen as villains in the city’s political culture, supported candidates for mayor and for city council president that ousted the incumbents in those offices. McGaughey and another member in 2006 took over leadership of that group. Issues related to working hours were temporarily forgotten.

Even so, McGaughey had been drawn into activities of the Reform Party, later Independence Party, as a result of the 1998 elections. He attended his first party convention in St. Cloud, Minnesota, in 2002. The party nominated a candidate for U.S. Senate. Believing that candidate’s position too conventional, McGaughey decided to throw his own hat in the ring.

Somewhat impulsively, Bill McGaughey ran a campaign designed to differentiate itself from the two major parties to a maximum degree. To irritate the Democrats, the party of minorities and political correctness, he decided to support “dignity for white males”. To irritate the Republicans, the party of corporate America, he announced his support for a 32-hour workweek to be achieved by 2010. The campaign had a certain resonance. McGaughey finished second among three candidates in the primary, with 8,482 votes or 31 percent of the total votes cast. The winning candidate was held to under 50 percent of the vote.

His appetite for electoral politics whetted, McGaughey announced his candidacy for President. He would run as a Democrat. In January 2004, McGaughey traveled to Louisiana to participate in that state’s presidential primary. It was to be a five-week campaign, involving appearances in cities in all parts of the state. The principal campaign issue was support for employer-specific tariffs. The result was that McGaughey, whom one reporter labelled a “trade protectionist”, finished fifth among seven candidates, with 3,161 votes or 2 percent of the total. John Kerry won Louisiana’s Democratic primary but lost to George W. Bush in November.

Now addicted to electoral politics, McGaughey became a candidate in several other races, ranging from local to national. The high watermark of his career as a political candidate, in terms of votes received, came in 2008 when, as the Independence Party’s candidate for Congress in the fifth district, he received 22,318 votes, or 6.92 percent of the total. Jesse Ventura was among those who congratulated him. However, subsequent campaigns were less impressive.

Running for Lieutenant Governor with Bob Carney in the 2010 Republican primary, McGaughey received 9,856 votes, or 7.56 percent of the total. Then the bottom fell out. McGaughey, who withdrew from the Republican primary election for Minnesota House District 59-B several weeks before the election, received only 79 votes or 44.6 percent of the total. In 2016, he received a scant 17 votes as a candidate in New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary reverting to the twin issues - a shorter workweek and dignity for white males - that had been the focus of his 2002 campaign for U.S. Senate in Minnesota. This was a terrible result. Something had to give.

the multilingual website

In 2001, Bill McGaughey had created a website at to promote his recently published book, Five Epochs of Civilization. That one was followed by a dozen other sites on various subjects. One of them was http://, which, as the name suggests, was devoted to articles related to work time. It was created in 2007. By 2016, the site contained nearly sixty different articles on this subject. Besides appearing in English, most of them had translations into French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, and Italian. The site as a whole was receiving 400 to 500 visits each day and 1,100 hits. Awareness of a cause was being effectively promoted by such means although the cause itself remained dormant.

John de Graaf's organization and a new effort

John de Graaf, the Seattle documentary film maker who had once approached McCarthy and McGaughey for an interview in a forthcoming documentary, had meanwhile built an impressive organization around work-time issues. Its theme was “Take Back Your Time”. De Graaf edited a book by that name which was published in 2003. He also coined the term “affluenza”, the title of another of de Graaf’s books. He played an active role in “the Happiness Initiative” of the Bhutan government which put human happiness on a par with gross national product in evaluating a society’s achievements. Because October 23rd is the day when Americans work the same number of hours as Europeans do in a year, de Graaf and colleagues held a special celebration on that day to make Americans aware of their unusual work-time burden relative to other industrialized nations.

Now John de Graaf announced that his organization would hold a three day conference in Seattle on August 25-27, 2016, for the purpose of strategizing and rallying support for initiatives in the area of work time. To be held at Seattle University, the event was titled the “National Work-Leisure Balance & Vacation Commitment Summit.” Persons who received the email were invited to submit proposals for a presentation at this conference. “We are not looking for narrow research,” the announcement said, “but for big ideas for cultural, workplace and policy change. We seek ideas that have the capacity to change our culture or that provide in-depth criticism or analyses of trends and developments in the campaign for more work-leisure balance.”

This was right up McGaughey’s alley. Thinking it over, he decided that the time was right to revive the shorter-workweek campaign that he had begun decades earlier. The conference announcement suggested that relevant topics of discussion might include “vacation time, family and sick leave, shorter working hours, flexible work and relief from the rat race.”

Despite the reference to shorter working hours, there did not seem to be a focus on the big goal of eliminating a full day’s work in the normal workweek so that a four-day week could be achieved. It might have been that shorter-hours activists did not wish to be seen as naive dreamers. The shorter-workweek proposal had been raised and rejected so many times that “realists” would recoil from even raising the subject.

But McGaughey had no reputation to protect. Thinking it over, he decided that the time was right to push for a 32-hour workweek to be achieved through federal legislation. This would be an adaptation of one of the suggested themes - “the historical fight for leisure” - seen not as a series of past events but of prospective events carried into the future.

And so, he wrote John de Graaf the following email message on March 25, 2016:


My wife and I are planning to attend the National Work-Leisure Balance and Vacation Commitment Summit in Seattle on August 25-27, 2016.  I would like to make a particular presentation for ten minutes or so which I hope will fit into the program.

The closest topic would be "the historic fight for leisure", except that the talk would be an attempt to look forward into the future rather than review past history.

In my proposed talk, I would invite interested persons to join me in creating an organization that would advocate for a specific goal: to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act with respect to the standard workweek to establish a 32-hour standard workweek (presumably four eight-hour days) and secure the amendment by the year 2020.  The technique would be to solicit members by mass mailings and then mobilize the membership to approach Congress to enact this proposed legislation. Money received from the membership campaign would be poured back into mailings to seek even more members.

If there is sufficient interest, I would pledge $500 toward start-up costs, four months of my own free labor to administer the mailings, and use of my multilingual website,, which presently gets over 400 visits and 1,100 hits per day. However, it would probably take another $500 to mount a full-scale effort.

There have been some false starts toward this goal in the past - notably, the Iowa City Declaration of April 1996, which came at a time when I was losing my paid job and fighting for continued ownership of an apartment building that city officials were trying to take from me. Those fights were won after a successful five-year effort to replace the city officials.

 I recently turned 75 and feel that this will be my last chance to work energetically toward a shorter workweek, which has been a lifelong dream.

I am also interested in the day-long trip to Mt. Rainier on August 25th.  My wife is declining that opportunity.

Please let me know if you can fit my proposed talk into the program.

Bill McGaughey”

John de Graaf promptly replied:

“I like the idea, Bill, and will call you about it soon.  I'm interested in the part about creating an organization for a 32-hour week.  Ben H is going to talk about the history of leisure. “

Stay tuned. 


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