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Cut Work Time to: end militarism, reduce inequality, slow growth, and more

#1
INTRODUCTION

Without a strategy which SCNCC adopts, advocates, and wins, SYSTEM CHANGE will be a slogan and not much more. Cutting work time with no cut in pay is a key strategy in the US economy. It adds jobs to the economy without requiring endless growth, and it will redistribute income from the affluent to the rest.

This will be a place to discuss cutting working hours to reach a number of goals. Work time reduction must be a primary strategy for SCNCC, along with other organizations, as it seeks to reduce GHG emissions, reduce income inequality, fight discrimination against women in the workplace, fight successfully against racism, end militarism, reach a just “Just Transition” and system change. Cutting work time adds new jobs.

Climate activists must build broad coalitions to achieve large reductions in GHG emissions. Cutting working time is an issue that can unite a very broad coalition, well beyond climate activists.
Kathi Weeks put it this way:
“Reducing work hours has always been an issue around which different groups could find common cause. As David Roediger and Philip Foner observe in their history of US labor and the working day, "reduction of hours became an explosive demand partly because of its unique capacity to unify workers across the lines of craft, race, sex, skill, age, and ethnicity" (1989, vii.). Today it has the potential to bring together a broad coalition of feminists, gay and lesbian activists, welfare rights advocates, union organizations, and campaigners for economic justice." Kathi Weeks, The Problem With Work, 174. The Roediger & Foner book is Our Own Time: A History of American Labor and the Working Day,)

We can add the Poor People’s Campaign, fighting for both racial and economic justice and add anti-war activists as natural allies. Add, as well, Millennials and other youth as strong supporters. Millennials, going forward, “lucky” enough to avoid the gig and precarious economy and able to secure a regular job, are almost worse off than “unlucky” peers. Think of a new college graduate moving into her first cubicle. She faces the hell of “5 times 50 times 50.” That’s not an equation but destiny. Five days a week. Times 50 weeks a year, Times 50 years till Social Security. What could be grimmer?

Without a sharp cut in work time each of the goals mentioned may be impossible to reach. In subsequent posts I will offer more detail and analysis showing how cutting hours will drive toward each goal but begin here with the prospect of ending militarism.

Cutting work time doesn’t merely address the current obscene distribution of income, though it does that. It doesn’t merely reduce Green House Gas emissions, though it does that. Cutting work time will, when we cut sharply and repeatedly, change the culture and the aspirations of the populous. Collectively we can discuss and plan to achieve that.

This is not a call for austerity. It is a call for massive income redistribution from the affluent downward to the rest. Cutting working time, with no cut in pay, will begin that.
My discussion will be framed in terms of US behavior and conditions but the policy proposed is both scalable and exportable. Other countries will likely soon follow US cuts. Emissions policy of any sort must comport with economic and environmental justice internationally, Nothing here will conflict with that goal, and can advance it. (See the work of Eco-Equity www.ecoequity.org and the Stockholm Environment Institute in this respect. “Climate Change and Equity” a ppt by Sivan Kartha or the earlier The Right to Development in a Climate Constrained World | Heinrich Böll Foundation. See also Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ Encyclical.)

Succinctly, our demand must be: Sharply cut work time, WITH NO CUT IN PAY.

A definition of the demand
By "shorter workweek" we mean changing the scheduled hours of work from 40 or more hours per week to less than 40 hours, while maintaining the weekly salary or wage. This definition does not encompass "compressed" workweeks -- 4 day, 40 hour weeks -- or flexible working hours, or permanent part-time jobs, or "job sharing". Although such arrangements may be desirable in many cases, they are not what we mean by "shorter workweek". Neither do we mean 3-day or 4-day work weeks, scheduled on an emergency basis, by which workers cut their hours and weekly pay so that layoffs may be avoided. During hard times this may be a humane way of distributing the work opportunities; however, it is essentially" the lesser of two evils", not a forward step for working people."
(from page 30 of A Shorter Workweek in the 1980's, by William McGaughey, Jr.)


McGaughey’s definition is useful in stressing that shortening work time is not “voluntary simplicity” i.e. voluntarily taking a pay cut to reduce one’s own working time. Most can’t afford that. We don’t want, moreover, consumers voluntarily sacrificing income to save the environment because it is neither sufficient nor system changing. We want people requiring a change in income distribution that will reduce the income of the most affluent among us.
The definition also leads to the class struggle aspect of fighting for shorter hours. We have been trained to think of the government as our oppressor. Demanding a cut in hours with no cut in pay asks workers to face in a different direction, towards the struggle at the job site for “no cut in pay.”

ENDLESS WAR THROUGH MANAGING THE MACRO ECONOMY

Ending militarism might seem to be the furthest reach among the goals listed, so I begin with it.
Capitalists now recognize that the economy from time to time enters slumps and crashes. An essential reason is continual gains in productivity. Capitalism relentlessly tries to do two conflicting things:

1. reduce what workers collectively are paid,
2. at the same time, convince workers that happiness and a better life requires ever high personal spending.

Economic slumps and recessions occur when the workers are unable to collectively spend enough out of wages and borrowing to keep themselves employed. To overcome slumps and crashes, new spending is plugged into the system through war, preparation for war and for recovery from war. This is Military Keynesianism.
The public and politicians are now familiar with the idea of managing the economy using two tools, Monetary and Fiscal policy. For reasons explained below, jobs, full employment, a just “Just Transition and ultimately racial and gender discrimination require an additional macro tool: reducing work time. Without this new tool, the familiar stimulus tools, Monetary and Fiscal policy result in Military Keynesianism. Military spending doesn’t undermine capitalism. The attempt to provide “jobs, jobs, jobs” now drives the country to endless war. Michael Kalecki explained the problem clearly seventy-five years ago. (Kalecki’s “Political Aspects of Full Employment” can be found here: https://delong.typepad.com/kalecki43.pdf .) It is short and worth reading.

In the 1930s in the midst of the Great Depression, Keynes, in his epochal The General Theory, and Kalecki both explained how government spending could overcome slumps and depressions. Their ideas were understood but rejected at first on the basis of “sound finance”. What was called “sound finance” was clearly not sound.
Kalecki, in his foundational1943 article, explained in detail why ‘industrial leaders’ and entrepreneurs resisted government intervention of any kind in the economy. Kalechi put it this way:
The reasons for the opposition of the ‘industrial leaders’ to full employment achieved by government spending may be subdivided into three categories: (i) dislike of government interference in the problem of employment as such; (ii) dislike of the direction of government spending (public investment and subsidizing consumption); (iii) dislike of the social and political changes resulting from the maintenance of full employment.

After WW II the same leaders Kalecki named came to understand that economic recessions can be minimized through the application of Fiscal and Monetary policy. What the government at the federal level is allowed to spend on, however, is still determined by the ‘industrial leaders’, entrepreneurs, and smaller business people. These would like the economy to grow, but not with the loss of labor discipline, or the risk of creeping socialism. The result, then, is spending on armaments. (Conservatives are now willing to subsidize consumption, but only for those already actually working, i.e through larger “Earned Income Tax Credits -EITC- or, as in 2012, the suspension for 1 year of the employee share of the payroll tax. The Trump tax cut now adds more consumption for the rich.)

Kalecki, writing before the Cold War, before Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and many smaller others, foresaw that continued spending to cure slumps (never mind crashes) would be required. He also saw, furthermore, that ‘industrial leaders’ would approve military spending but not public investment or subsidizing mass consumption. For seventy-five years US policy has been to use Military Keynesianism to stabilize the economy rather than offsetting productivity gains with shorter hours. To provide jobs, Military Keynesianism spawned the Cold War and continues propping up the economy until today. Capitalism chooses war over free time.

Reducing consumption by gaining free time and reducing emissions:

Greenhouse gas emissions ultimately come through consumption or in the production of what is consumed. We do know that the rich do an outsize share of consumption. Studies on this will be posted shortly. We can reduce the consumption done by the rich by reducing their incomes. Not by taxing them (more about that another day) but through redistributing income by reducing the workweek.

Why is this important? First of course to reduce the consumption of the rich and thus their GHG emissions. More important, moreover, will be changing the culture. Cutting the income of the rich will impact the demonstration effect: we learn from others to form new material aspirations. Since the rich have money to try new things – – they don't just buy more bread as their incomes rise – – the rich are powerfully driving our consumption into new things. Cutting the work week, in contrast, provides more free time. The rest of us can learn to value time more than money.

Telling the public that it will like a policy is a poor way to sell it. People have to learn new wants. At present we learn our material aspirations from neighbors, workmates, and those who have the income to buy what they want. (And from television, etc.) We can’t change aspirations and dreams of a better life or, especially, The System, with exhortations. Ryan Gunderson, in an email to the SCNCC list asserted “We have to point to desirable and achievable steps in order to build a movement.” That is key. People have to experience and learn implications of a policy before fully embracing it. Learning of and then trying out a policy is a necessary step.

"A better life for my children”, most of us have been trained to believe, requires higher income to fund a move to a better house in a neighborhood with better schools plus prospects for ever higher pay so the grandchildren will have even more. All tied to a secure job with growing pay. Easy to dream about because we can know and see neighbors or people at work, certainly on television, experiencing some of that life. With a credit card, a car loan, a mortgage, i.e. with debt, we can actually experience those "betters" ourselves.

We can't experience, now, seven weeks paid vacation that the Europeans enjoy. We can’t try out fewer hours of work each week. We are offered choices heavily biased toward work and consumption. For reasons to be discussed elsewhere, those choices are very, very difficult to reject. So our dreams remain of a higher income, to afford “better”. Not included is a dream of a 15 hour workweek or a two-year paid leave from work. Our fantasies maybe, but not our dreams. Can dreams be changed from a base in more money to a base in more time? Perhaps, by experiencing more time. What the French and Germans and other European countries elsewhere have now. Workers can learn that time is worth more than consumption but only if they can experience more time.

Shortening the work week will let workers learn that time is more valuable to them than shiny objects. At the same time, with additional jobs created by cutting “standard” hours, individuals now excluded from the work force will find jobs and newly enjoy consumption.

Reducing income inequality

The severe income inequality in the USA exists and grows (as it did in the 1920s and before) because of a surplus of workers relative to demand for their work. The surplus inevitably grows because productivity gains eliminate jobs while making owners richer. (The false claim — repeated daily in the media — of economists and business interests that new jobs will replace the ones eliminated will be discussed another time.)

Workers are a commodity, selling their labor time in a competitive market. There is almost always a surplus of this particular commodity.
Harry Braverman addressed this:
“How is labor power cheapened? There are a variety of ways, but by far the most important in modern production is the breakdown of complex processes into simple tasks which are performed by workers whose knowledge is virtually nil, whose so-called training is brief, and who may thereby be used as interchangeable parts. In this way the requirements of production are satisfied not through small pools of highly skilled labor in each craft, but by labor of the simplest sort. The consequence is that for most jobs, the whole of society becomes a labor pool upon which to draw, and this helps to keep the value of labor power at the level of subsistence for the individual or below the level of subsistence for the family.”

Braverman published that in 1975. Subsequent and anticipated technology — think digitalization and Artificial Intelligence — makes it prescient and more powerful.

Workers are forced to sell themselves as a commodity. Very little of the US economy operates subject to competition in “the market” but workers do. The notorious Libertarian, Peter Thiel, wrote an excellent essay in the Wall Street Journal titled “Competition is for Losers.” (Sept. 12, 2014) Nobody wants to be in a commodity business without a way to control supply. (See the book Cornered for a popular account of “The New Monopoly Capitalism”.)

Mandating reduced hours is a means of protecting workers from a market which forces them to compete with each other by working for what the employer offers. Many industries have legal protection from the market. Pharmaceuticals have protection from competition through patent laws. Wheat and soybeans are protected by the farm legislation, and farming would be a losing industry — as it was in the past — without the USDA to control supply. Software can be extremely profitable only because of copyright law. Music, books and films are protected from the market in the same way. Protecting “intellectual property” is one of the most important parts of international trade treaties.

In other industries there are few enough companies so that “cooperation” can keep supply under constraint to keep prices up. And if all that won’t control supply there is always illegal collusion to fix prices. Many of the biggest companies have been convicted for this, including Archer-Daniels-Midland (Supermarket to the World) Bayer, GE and Westinghouse. The list is long. The long term result of labor selling itself as a commodity after the Taft-Harley Act (plus other assaults) can be seen in this graph of “Labor Share in the Nonfarm Business Sector” since 1950:


1540579484110.png
1540579484110.png




Selling yourself as a commodity can be discussed in later posts. When US agriculture collapsed in the Great Depression, the first major New Deal legislation was designed to take surplus crops off the market. We have had a “farm bill” ever since because commodity crops cannot be profitable without being managed to support prices. The USDA, at great expense and however poorly, manages crop supplies to support prices.

The Great Depression of the 1930s also resulted in hard-won labor protection. Those gains were rolled-back, in sharp contrast with what happened in agriculture, shortly after WW II, with the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947. Now individual workers sell a commodity at lower and lower prices.

Fred Magdoff in the March, 2015 Monthly Review, lamented that farmers reacted to surpluses and shortages as follows:
“Thus, farmers increase production when prices are high (as they “should”) and when prices are low (which they “shouldn’t”). A rational economic decision for each individual farmer goes against the supposed capitalist economic logic and ends up being irrational for the entire group of farmers together. (It is important to note that the main way farmers rapidly increase total production in response to high prices for all the crops they grow is to convert marginal land, frequently highly erodible, from conservation buffers or strips into cultivation for cash crops. This, of course, leads to environmental damage.”

This perverse behavior is just what workers do. When wages are high they want more hours, more overtime and more family members working. That additional supply drives wages down. When wages are low, workers again want more hours, second and third jobs, and more family members working. That drives wages even lower.

Agriculture needs additional management beyond Monetary and Fiscal policy to control surplus supply, and for that we have the USDA. Nothing comparable for workers is employed. Cutting working hours, much like restricting acreage under the USDA, is another macro economic policy, an alternative to deficit spending (read: war spending) to produce jobs.

The History

There is a long and successful history of the fight for shorter hours, led by labor and embraced by churches and others. The Abolitionists, after the Civil War, took up the fight for shorter hours. This history is important and we can come back to it.

For workers, the last Federal attempt to deal with a surplus supply was the final big New Deal legislation, the Wages and Hours Act which cut the work week from six days to a standard five day week of 40 hours, passed just before WW II.

This is not a sporadic issue. What workers need is not just an occasional adjustment to deal with a temporary surplus. Workers are always in a growing surplus because of the relentless march of productivity. Unlike wheat, where adjustments in acreage can be up or down, depending, for example, on weather in Canada and Russia as well as the USA, and the strength or weakness of the dollar. Productivity only improves. Productivity gains are treated in the media as a thing good for all, as they could and should be. But productivity moves in only one direction, and that is to eliminate jobs.

As digitization, robots and Artificial Intelligence now loom to wipe out jobs in the future, and global warming and other environmental assaults continue to grow, we must sharply cut work time to prevent the degradation of the Earth.

Andre Gorz offered an alternative:

“The liberation from work for economic ends, through reduction in working hours and the development of other types of activities, self-regulated and self-determined by the individuals involved, is the only way to give positive meaning to the savings in wage labor brought about by the current technological revolution. The project for a society of liberated time, in which everyone will be able to work but will work less and less for economic ends, is the possible meaning of the current historical developments. Such a project is able to give cohesion and a unifying perspective to the different elements that make up the social movements since (1) is a logical extension of the experiences and struggles of workers in the past; (2) it reaches beyond our experience and those struggles towards objectives which correspond to the interests of both workers and non-workers, and is thus able to cement bonds of solidarity and common political will between them; (3) it corresponds to the aspirations of the ever-growing proportion of men and women who wish to (re)gain control in and of their own lives. From Critique of Economic Reason, P 224.

Much more to come, including links to the work of others.
I look forward to the discussion.
 
#2
Very nice post, Eugene. Thank you. I would just add that we on the anti-work, anti-war Left should encourage deurbanization.

There was an article I linked to yesterday about Neolithic farming, work, inequality, and war. How Neolithic farming sowed the seeds of modern inequality 10,000 years ago

Also, here is the list of anti-war groups:

Revive the Peace Movement (RPM), Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice (CPRSJ), War Resisters League (WRL), Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists, Promoting Enduring Peace (PEP), and Middle East Crisis Committee (MECC), Code Pink, Jewish Voice for Peace, United States Labor Against War.

Anyone can add to this list.

Thanks again, Eugene, for opening up the door to this discussion! :)
 
#3
The abandonment of factory farming in favor of organic farming may result the necessity for more work than some imagine. Consider this passage from another post on the Forum:

Quote

But such metropolitan plots [urban gardens], important on social and ecological levels, crucial for teaching people about unalienated labor, and for connecting people back to the land, cannot possibly feed everyone. Even in the best of cases, they can replace purchased or imported vegetables but not supply all nutrient needs, at least not without undercutting the population density which makes cities urban. So how does degrowth envision people eating, and securing the raw materials needed for replacing industrial-style production?

Because agriculture is at the center of human well-being and human society, the trade in agricultural products has been so central to the hierarchical and capitalist world food system, and because importing cheap tropical goods has been a priority for the powers-that-be for a very long time, I do not see a way around directly addressing this question, given how it threads through every inch of the social fabrics which degrowth seeks to reweave.[10]

Indeed, agriculture is one of the primary ways richer and poorer countries interact. Let me explain. First, there is the question of labor. In wealthier nations’ agriculture, labor has generally been (1) replaced by machines and chemicals, and thus fossil fuel; (2) imported from devastated peasant or post-peasant societies to both US farms and US secondary processing: think post-NAFTA Mexico flooded with cheap, subsidized US corn, which destroyed milpa-based maize cultivation. And food itself, where not secured domestically in the industrial style, is extracted from the formerly colonized world, especially tropical commodities which we cannot grow at home. How this affects the wealthier lands’ degrowth paths is a debate which must be opened because all countries are not structured the same way. If as production localizes, poorer countries are focused on feeding their own, and richer countries can no longer replace knowledge, attention, and labor with chemicals, we might find that we need somewhat more labor, or human presence on farms, than degrowth imagines.

End quote.

DK
 
#4
The whole article by Max Ajl that David K quotes deserves careful reading by those who argue that we, in the wealthier North, will be able to slash our workweeks while eliminating fossil fuel agriculture and abolishing unjust relations between North and South. There is a big difference between eliminating labor and eliminating alienate labor. Our relative affluence floats on a sea of products made overseas by workers whose quality of life is severely limited under the current economic arrangements. I'd like to see how this proposal to prioritize shorter work weeks in the U.S. can be realized within the context of a just transition.
 
#5
Ted underscores a critical point made in Max Ajl's important article. Organic, sustainable farming on a scale needed to feed the US (for example) will necessarily be more labor intensive than what happens now with unsustainable factory farming and with food grown under dire working conditions for farm laborers domestic and foreign. How much more labor intensive would food production be in an ecosocialist economy? Could we really shorten the work week with these constraints? I imagine that requires some serious research.
 
#6
Some more questions for my friend Gene who has given this possible campaign much thought:

1. First world food supplies currently depend on itinerant brown people working the fields for lousy wages, no benefits, and no job security. How might this change under socialism? Would we not, at the very least, need our young adults to spend some years in the fields growing food on collective agroecological farms?

2. Who will make up the ranks of the mass movement for the 30 hour work week? Seniors? No. Too many are already retired and depend in various ways on the productivity of younger workers. How about those who already have 30 hour work weeks or less and can't make ends meet? Those with 2 jobs? Uber drivers? Amazon delivery workers? The 6% of the private work force that is unionized and is fighting hard to keep what they've already bargained? Graduate students? Farmworkers? Public employees whose unions are reeling from the loss of union security in the Janus decision and whose pensions are underfunded and under attack?
Best
Ted
 
#7
Some more questions for my friend Gene who has given this possible campaign much thought:

1. First world food supplies currently depend on itinerant brown people working the fields for lousy wages, no benefits, and no job security. How might this change under socialism? Would we not, at the very least, need our young adults to spend some years in the fields growing food on collective agroecological farms?

2. Who will make up the ranks of the mass movement for the 30 hour work week? Seniors? No. Too many are already retired and depend in various ways on the productivity of younger workers. How about those who already have 30 hour work weeks or less and can't make ends meet? Those with 2 jobs? Uber drivers? Amazon delivery workers? The 6% of the private work force that is unionized and is fighting hard to keep what they've already bargained? Graduate students? Farmworkers? Public employees whose unions are reeling from the loss of union security in the Janus decision and whose pensions are underfunded and under attack?
Best
Ted
Ted, thanks for engaging. I’ll respond to your 1. and 2. separately, First, thank you for taking a long view on this. Many of SCNCC discussions read, to me at least, as if folks think everything will go on as before, just with clean energy. I believe the world is going to be enormously changed by dealing with or not dealing with climate change. Universities will eventually be very different, schools, I hope, will be very different. Aspirations will be very different. Life will be very different and SCNCC needs to talk about that much more than we have thus far.


About First world food supplies: Ws should distinguish between row crops and the rest. You are thinking, I’m inferring, of row crops. The big ag producers of things like wheat, corn and soybeans are riding in air-conditioned tractors and combines, some guided by sophisticated computers that measure soil moisture and all that. They are often rich, rather than low paid, and that whole segment will have a different problem which you mentioned in an earlier post: When fossil fuels for the machines and for the fertilizers and pesticides run low, how will the food supply be impacted? That question from your earlier post is different and very important. Maybe if we can get the affluent to stop emitting so much of the total GHG emissions the problem will be at least more manageable.


Here I’ll stick to the people you describe, people working the row crops. That is hard work, and I sampled it a bit just as I turned into a teenager. I couldn’t believe how one row stretched to infinity. I’m not sure about requiring, as you suggest, young adults to work for a period on collective farms. I guess I don’t like that idea. I remember two things from long ago on Eastern farms. First, on a row crop in small fields, a few acres in size: the owners hired school kids to come in (in school buses sometimes) to get down on their hands and knees a go through, plant by plant, to do what was needed. The teenagers liked the jobs and in a very few weeks they ended. Nothing wrong with teenagers working and making some money. The other example was in Maine, when potatoes from Maine were a big crop.. In Aroostoock County, Maine (and maybe in all of Maine?) the school year started in the summer and then the schools shut down for three weeks when it was time to harvest potatoes. School kids supplied labor. That continues but might be eliminated as mechanical harvesting comes along. Its been a long time since I was in a potato field.


Farming of all types is seasonal — lots of work during the planting season, lots more work in the harvesting season. Less work in between. Maybe a response to your problem is in that seasonality?


But, still in # 1, you raise a second problem: “itinerant brown people working the fields for lousy wages, no benefits, and no job security.” The political power of the growers, both in California and in Washington DC is enormous. They’ve kept agricultural and domestic labor out of the Social Security Act among other things. There has been a long fight in California to get water and bathrooms in the fields, and so on. And, of course, many of the people working the fields are welcome when the work needs to be done and only then.


I will just claim that shrinking the work week to shrink the labor force — the general labor force — will help.


Turning to your second numbered point:





2. Without going back to look at my initial post, I don’t think I mentioned the 30 hour week. I hope a SCNCC initial demand can be worked out here, in the discussion on the Forum. We want a cut that will be significant but attainable. People smarter than I am can figure out what the demand should be.


Probably in conversation with you I have mentioned a specific number, maybe even much smaller than 30. In Korea, where the government has been trying to cut hours for several years, they started with the big employers — those employing 1,000 or more, say — and cutting hours there. Followed the next year by cutting for those employing 500 or more, etc. And exempting really small employers.


You list the following who might not be supportive of cutting the work week: “How about those who already have 30 hour work weeks or less and can't make ends meet? Those with 2 jobs? Uber drivers? Amazon delivery workers? The 6% of the private work force that is unionized and is fighting hard to keep what they've already bargained? Graduate students? Farmworkers?”


You have listed people who are being crushed under present arrangements. These are exactly the workers I am intending to help. Median income for those without a BA has been falling for 50 years! 50 years. (According to Angus Deaton of Princeton.) They can be crushed because of the surplus of workers ready to take their jobs. (I write that today despite the claims of full employment. I’ll leave an argument about that for another time.) We have over 2 million in prison or jail in the USA who could be in the labor force if employers wanted them. (Another almost 5 million on probation or parole, and thus handicapped in job seeking.)


My contention is that unless we cut the work week, and sharply, all these people you list — and many more — will be worse off. And robots and Artificial Intelligence loom Perhaps we, you and I and many others together can make Uber drivers and other precarious clingers to dreams of a something better can come to understand that the first steps are in cutting the work week.


How to organize it? Ah, that’s a good question.
 
#8
Ted raises a very important issue that comes up frequently in my discussions of shorter working time in the context of withdrawal from fossil fuels. It is true that much more work will be required to do things that are currently massively augmented by fossil-fueled machinery. At the same time, though, the elimination of superfluous work and "bullshit jobs" means that far fewer hours of work are required. So what is the net change?

There is no quantitative answer! The underlying quantitative illusion is fostered by measuring the various kinds of "work" being done in monetary units and clock time so that they can be added together. Thus $100,000 worth of agricultural labour can be added to $200,000 worth of teaching and $400,000 worth of financial advising to get a total of $700,000 worth of work. By the same pseudo-mathematical trick, we can add 20,000 hours of farm labour to 30,000 hours of factory work and 45,000 hours of retail employment. What does it all mean? It means that we have been relying on dollars and hours as imaginary units so that we metaphorically "measure" them and "add" them together. This is not math, it is pseudo-math. It is no more "scientific" than were phrenology, astrology or alchemy.

The bottom line is that there is no "bottom line" here. SYSTEM CHANGE requires abandoning the accounting metrics used by apologists for the system to conceal what actually happens and to make it appear rational. We do know something fundamental about capitalism aside from all these metaphorical accounts: to survive it must "accumulate, accumulate, accumulate" and to accumulate it must perpetually extend and intensify the hours of work. That intensification of productivity is what the consumption of fossil fuel is all about. But intensification alone is not enough for capital and that is why the consumption of fossil fuel, the emission of carbon dioxide and the aggregate number of hours worked must continually expand.

Reducing the hours of work confronts that inevitable logic of capital. That is what must be understood and never forgotten.
 
#9
Sandwhichman posted this to another list. I repost it here. The creator is the New Economics Foundation in the UK.

5 REASONS WHY NEF SUPPORTS THE 4 DAY WEEK CAMPAIGN
REDUCING THE HOURS WE WORK CAN HELP FUTURE-PROOF THE ECONOMY AND THE ENVIRONMENT.
05 NOVEMBER, 2018 |
ARTICLES



AIDAN HARPER
ASSISTANT RESEARCHER

It’s been decades since the two-day weekend became standard in the UK. Now, the five-day work week is up for debate.
Working time is once again becoming a site of political contestation. And it’s no surprise: under the UK’s current economic model we work longer, less productively, and for lower real wage growth than almost any other advanced economy.
The amount of time we spend in work is neither natural nor inevitable. Work time has varied dramatically throughout history, and continues to vary widely between countries. Reductions in working hours have always been the result of conscious action and collective effort – the two-day weekend and the eight-hour day were won by campaigners, trade unions, progressive businesses, and eventually government legislation.
Things have now moved on. The old model of working time is increasingly outdated, and although productivity has flatlined in the last decade, we are still 2.4 times more productivethan we were in 1971. Yet hours for full-time work have barely decreased. That is why, at the New Economics Foundation, we are now officially supporting the 4 Day Week Campaign, who “believe that a 4 Day Week will benefit our society, our economy, our environment and our democracy”.
We have long called for shorter and more flexible hours of paid work, firstly in our report 21 Hours and then in our book Time on Our Side. We continue to make the case as part of the European Network for the Fair Sharing of Working Time, as well as beginning a new stream of work supported by the Communication Workers Union.
We could all begin the move to a four-day week tomorrow, but it wouldn’t be an instant switch. A shorter working week would need to be implemented gradually, alongside efforts to strengthen wage levels across the economy. But as long as that’s understood, there are clear benefits for environment, economy and society:
1. FUTURE-PROOF THE ECONOMY.
30% of existing UK jobs could be impacted by automation by the early 2030s, for example through the use of new AI technologies to replace clerical and administrative functions, and eventually the use of machines to replace manual tasks. One report has found that the highest levels of future automation are predicted in Britain’s former industrial heartlands in the North of England, as well as the Midlands and the industrial centres of Scotland. Rather than allowing automation to lead to mass precarity and increased regional inequality, automation should be harnessed: to reduce working hours in the UK, and then evenly distribute the secure work that remains.
2. FUTURE-PROOF THE ENVIRONMENT.
There is a strong relationship between long working hours and high carbon emissions. Cutting down on the number of hours worked could help the UK drastically reduce its carbon emissions and move towards becoming a truly sustainable economy.

3. IMPROVE GENDER EQUALITY.
On average, women currently do 60% more unpaid work than men. Moving towards a shorter working week as the‘norm’ would help change attitudes about gender roles, promote more equal shares of paid and unpaid work, and help revalue jobs traditionally associated with women’s work. It would provide men with more time outside paid employment to be active parents and carers; it would also change expectations as ‘part-time’ becomes the new ‘full-time’, enabling more women to take up secure and well paid employment.

4. PUT WELLBEING FIRST.
One in four sick days in the UK are the result of workload – the biggest single cause of sick leave by some distance. Our current model of work-time is causing untold harm to workers; a reduced working week could help cut levels of overwork and stress and increase the wellbeing of workers.

5. REBALANCE THE ECONOMY.
Record levels of low unemployment in the UK conceal persistently high levels of underemployment – characterised by precarious work with low pay and short contracts. Meanwhile, overemployment – where people are overworked and want to work less – is currently 35% higher than underemployment. This means there is enough work to go around. In an unbalanced workforce with a large gap between those who want more work, and those who want to work less, a shorter working week could be used to help share secure employment around.
A reduction of working time for all will not be easy, and nor will it be a silver bullet for all of society’s problems. But the potential benefits of a shorter working week are too important to be ignored, and it is time to begin to transition towards a world of reduced work.
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ohn McDonnell shapes Labour case for four-day week
Economist Lord Skidelsky working with shadow chancellor on ‘practical possibilities of reducing the working week’
Dan Sabbagh
Thu 8 Nov 2018 23.32 ESTLast modified on Thu 8 Nov 2018 23.39 EST
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Labour’s John McDonnell has suggested the party could try to include a pledge to reduce the working week at the next election. Photograph: Mark Thomas/REX/Shutterstock

John McDonnell, the Labour shadow chancellor, is in discussions with the distinguished economist Lord Skidelsky about an independent inquiry into cutting the working week, possibly from the traditional five days to four.
The academic, who has a longstanding interest in the future of work, confirmed he was talking to the shadow chancellor about “the practical possibilities of reducing the working week”.
Skidelsky said he did not want to “be too exact” about his recommendations, although he added the idea of exploring ways of reducing the traditional five-day week to four was under consideration.

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McDonnell has suggested the party could include a pledge to reduce the traditional working week by a day in its manifesto for the next election. Asked directly about this last month in a BBC interview, he said: “We will see how it goes.”
The idea, though, is sensitive in Labour circles with some unsure whether such a commitment would be appropriate. The idea was floated during the Labour conference in September but the party later denied it was being considered – before McDonnell reignited speculation about it in the BBC interview.
Labour insiders say that people work too many long hours but some argue that issues such as zero-hour contracts and other issues faced by gig-economy workers are more pressing.
Skidelsky indicated he did not anticipate holding an official party inquiry, saying that he hoped to produce work that would be “open to anyone to look at the results”. Workers in France and Germany produce more than their British counterparts, despite working shorter weeks.

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Further clarity on the topic is expected in around a fortnight. When McDonnell was asked on Tuesday directly about Skidelsky advising him on a four-day week, he said: “I’ll get back to you on that. I’ll let you know in the next couple of weeks”.
The shadow chancellor added that he was reading a new book by Skidelsky, entitled Money and Government, describing it as “terrific”.
Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said that a four-day week should be “an ambition” at its annual gathering in September. At the time Brandon Lewis, the Conservative party chairman, responded by saying the idea would do “untold damage to our economy”.
Skidelsky, who sits as a crossbencher in the Lords, is an emeritus professor at Warwick University and has previously written a three-volume biography of Lord Keynes as well as on the financial crisis.
 
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