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Iowa City Declaration


"Post-industrial society in North America is experiencing a time famine. Yet, while many working people have inadequate time to pursue family, personal, and community life, others have become economically redundant in the continuing waves of corporate downsizing. The maldistribution of work and free time, with attendant inequality of incomes, has created a growing social problem. We believe that this problem may effectively be addressed by a general reduction in working hours.

The forty-hour workweek became the legal standard for U.S. hourly workers in 1940. Labor productivity has increased by many times since then. Increased labor productivity, unless accompanied by shorter hours, tends to displace workers from employment in productive enterprise. The result is higher unemployment or increasing employment in low-wage occupations.

Responsible social policy requires correction of these trends. Responsible employment requires that the jobs allow adequate time for employees to cultivate rich and fulfilling lives outside their work environment. Responsible direction of national economies requires attention to the widening income gap in society. Responsible practice in international trade requires that nations refrain from dumping domestic unemployment on their trading partners by maintaining a schedule of work hours in excess of levels appropriate for their stage of industrial development.

We North Americans, gathered in Iowa City, therefore urge the national governments of Canada and the United States to put in place before the year 2000 the legal arrangements to ensure that a thirty-two hour workweek will become the norm for full-time workers in the first decade of the new millennium.

While a reduced workweek is the focus of this appeal, we also recognize that longer vacations, sabbaticals, job- sharing, and other forms of hours reductions or alternative schedules are desirable objects. In the process of reducing work hours, it is important to protect and enhance the basic wage and benefit structure for workers in advanced economies, including those employed as part-time, contingent, temporary, or contract workers. We invite support for those objectives from representatives of the labor movement, the business community, public officials, religiously committed persons, socially or environmentally conscious groups, and others concerned with humanity's future."

Adopted in Iowa City, Iowa on March 10, 1996




A conference on work time organized by Professor Benjamin K. Hunnicutt of the leisure-studies department at the University of Iowa adopted the above resolution on March 10, 1996. The “Declaration” was proposed and written by William McGaughey. The conference was attended by such luminaries as former U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy, feminist pioneer Betty Friedan, sister Helen Prejean, labor leader Jerry Tucker, best-selling author Juliet Schor, documentary maker John deGraaf, and the Canadian author Bruce O’Hara.

The Iowa City Declaration set a goal of achieving a 32-hour workweek in North America by the end of the millennium - in about four years. Ultimately, this goal was not achieved. Even 16 years later, the U.S. workweek remains as long as ever.

It may have been a mistake to set a goal without preparing to take steps to implement this. Many of the participants had individually helped to promote shorter hours but there was no coordinated effort in that regard.

From McGaughey’s standpoint the problem was that he was facing a number of personal challenges in early 1996 that increasingly would claim his time and attention. First, he lost his job of sixteen years. Later in the year his marriage came to an end. McGaughey was also spending increased time and effort with a landlord organization, Minneapolis Property Owners Association, which was fighting the city of Minneapolis over its treatment of private-sector landlords. He was facing a threat to his very livelihood.

An accountant by trade, William McGaughey had acquired rental property in Minneapolis in 1992 and 1993 when he sensed that he would soon lose his job. In January 1995, he attended the third prepcom of the United Nations Social Summit in New York City where, together with Eugene McCarthy, he led a workshop in the UN basement on work-time issues in an effort to influence the wording of a document sent to delegates at the social summit in Copenhagen. Upon returning to Minneapolis, he learned that two sets of Minneapolis inspectors had meanwhile condemned his apartment building for cockroach infestation even though a licensed pest-control firm was regularly treating it. He was able to reopen the building after spending tens of thousands of dollars to comply with city-ordered work orders.

To make a long story short - more details are available at - McGaughey’s attention turned from the society-wide issue of shorter working hours to his immediate problem of being a landlord in a city whose political culture was focused upon punishing “slumlords”. The landlord group went on a rampage against abusive city government and, in the municipal elections of 2001, succeeded in ousting the mayor and the president of the city council (who had orchestrated the move against McGaughey in 1995) even though landlords continued to be reviled.

Now it is sixteen years later. McGaughey remarried the woman from whom he had been divorced in 1996 and, having some new money from an inheritance, decided to return to his first love politically which was the shorter-workweek cause.



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