The Marxists Internet Archive has made available a 1959 column by Raya Dunayevskaya on the history of May Day and the meaning of the struggle to shorten the working day (“May 1 and the Shorter Work Day“).
While it is always a good idea to refamiliarize people with the trans-Atlantic origin of May Day, this piece is of lasting interest because it takes up the philosophic implications of the workers’ effort to limit the working day. Marx’s discussion of the dialectic of freedom and necessity from Vol. III of Capital is cited here.
Below is a fuller excerpt from this passage from Chapter Forty Eight of Volume III of Capital. This is the Ernest Untermann translation, published by Charles H. Kerr. Readers should also consult the David Fernbach translation from the Penguin and Vintage editions
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From Chapter Forty Eight of Volume III of Capital (“The Trinitarian Formula”)
In fact, the realm of freedom does not commence until the point is passed where labor under the compulsion of necessity and of external utility is required. In the very nature of things it lies beyond the sphere of material production in the strict meaning of the term. Just as the savage must wrestle with nature, in order to satisfy his wants, in order to maintain his life and reproduce it, so civilized man has to do it, and he must do it in all forms of society and under all possible modes of production. With his development the realm of natural necessity expands, because his wants increase; but at the same time the forces of production increase, by which these wants are satisfied. The freedom in this field cannot consist of anything else but of the fact that socialized man, the associated producers, regulate their interchange with nature rationally, bring it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by some blind power; that they accomplish their task with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most adequate to their human nature and most worthy of it. But it always remains a realm of necessity. Beyond it begins that development of human power, which is its own end, the true realm of freedom, which, however, can flourish only upon that realm of necessity as its basis. The shortening of the working day is its fundamental premise.