Saturday, February 08, 2020

Cut working hours without wage cuts

With the average worker clocking 47 hours a week, Americans work more hours per year than almost any other industrialized country — 423 more than German workers, 248 more than workers in the United Kingdom, and 266 more hours a year than French workers, according to the latest Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development statistics. The United States is also the only industrialized country without national parental leave benefits or legally mandated paid vacation. Most European countries require at least 20 days of paid holiday and vacation time — the French actually get an entire month of annual vacation. 

Back in the early days of industrial capitalism, it was not uncommon for workers to work anywhere between 10-16 hours a day. But a bloody, centuries-long battle fought by socialists, unionists, and other similar groups in the United States won us the 40-hour work week in 1938.

Prominent economists like John Maynard Keynes were even making utopian prophecies that we’d all be working 15-hour weeks in the 21st century. 

Keynes’s prediction wasn’t based so much on the continued victories for labor as it was on a belief in increased productivity. Perhaps due to automation, or perhaps in combination with other amazing human achievements, steady increases in worker productivity would make it so that workers could simply work less and less until the weekday/weekend ratio was flipped: two days of work, five days off.

“It was such a struggle for the early organized working class to originally shorten the work week,” economic analyst Doug Henwood explained to Truthout. “But since then, it’s just completely fallen off the radar as a demand of the labor movement. And of course, organized labor is so desperate at this point anyway that they’re not really making many demands. But even just that imagination of what we can do with a shorter work week — it’s just largely disappeared from the conversation.”

“We don’t see payoff from increased productivity in the form of more leisure — it’s just more and more work,” Henwood explained. “The tendency of capitalism, especially in the American system, is just to work more and harder.”

Marx's son-in-law wrote a pamphlet called the "Right to be Lazy" but his call has gone unheard and unheeded.

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