Like Jane Fonda with 9 TO 5 (Colin Higgins, 1980), Fassbinder ostensibly researched EIGHT HOURS DON’T MAKE A DAY by visiting factories, talking to workers and getting advice from trade unions. He then went on to write the scripts for the eight-part series, sent them to trade unionists for feedback and incorporated the feedback into the final scripts. I’m not too clear on when Westdeutscher Rundfunk decided not to go ahead with the last three episodes. Fassbinder had been paid, the actors had signed contracts, the show was a ratings and popular success. It had also been very controversial in the press. When producer Peter Märthesheimer approached Fassbinder about the project, he described the goal as the ‘occupation of a bourgeois genre.’ Perhaps they had succeeded too well, and Mäthesheimer didn’t want to test an already volatile press on what further, ostensibly bleaker episodes might spark. The fallout of the Munich Olympics Massacre of ‘72 was still being processed in the culture as this show was being released.
The final episode takes place mainly at work. The factory is moving. The workers find out before they’re consulted. It will constitute a major disruption to their lives, adding two hours to a daily commute for some, or incurring costs by requiring them to buy transport they hadn’t previously needed. Newlyweds Jochen (Gottfried John) and Marion (Hannah Schygulla) have only just signed a five-year lease on a flat. What to do? Marion, always the voice of reason and change in this series, suggests they draw up a list of demands and present them to the bosses. The biggest demand is that workers organise their work themselves. Surprisingly, the bosses accept. They set the hours it would normally take to do the job, and if the workers do the job earlier the money saved will be split half-half between workers and bosses. This they do. Should they divide the money equally or according to pay grade? An occasion to bring up all the racist tensions at the factory. But the workers agree to that as well…. And then the ball droops. Why should the bosses get any of the money? Well because they own the means of production.
The organisation, resistance and work at the factory is interspersed with housing problems (Jochen and Marion end up exchanging flats with Jochen’s parents), a misunderstanding when Manfred (Wolfgang Zerlett), madly in love with Monika (Renate Roland) , thinks she’s involved with someone else when in fact she’s being swindled by a bourgeois speculator, something the grandmother quickly, and humorously, sets to right, and Irm’s (Irm Hermann) developing relationship with Rolf(Rudolf Waldemar Brem) . In ‘The Utopian Channel’ a lovely essay that accompanies the Criterion blu-ray, Marion Weigel writes, ‘As an American in 2018, I find it impossible to watch EIGHT HOURS DON’T MAKE A DAY without longing for more stories like, for us, here and now.’ I know what she means.