Ideas & Debates
IDEAS & DEBATES
The Workday: An Endless Battle Around Time
Everyday work life is a silent struggle—an ongoing battle for a moment of rest or distraction.
July 29, 2016
4:30 a.m. The first alarm rings, then the second, and so on. Little by little the sound invades your sleep; it starts to disturb you. Not so much because of the noise, but because of what it means. A tired body, sleepy head and relaxed legs are forced to suddenly get up. First you sit up and understand little or nothing. You just realize you already have to leave and you won’t come back until the evening. One more day that slips away from you while you’re working.
Eight, 10, 12, 14 or 16 are the number of working hours that many of us have to endure in a day—multiplied by 5, 6 or 7 days, with shifts and/or rotating days off—"American Inventions" that lengthen the week, that only give you one or two days off. Overtime, forced by pressure, threats or wages that aren’t enough for anything. Awards, for production, sales or perfect punctuality, are just other means of extortion. And so it is with these different combinations that we arrive at the life of daily work in which we wage a class struggle that is silent, but no less brutal: we hate going to work. We struggle to get more minutes or seconds for rest or distraction, doing everything a little more slowly, going to the bathroom or defying the time limits of our breaks while the hours DO NOT pass. The hands on the clock are heavy; they don’t move. We can’t wait until it ends.
The industrial revolution and technological progress came with a false promise: the possibility of working less. Each factory and company is put into operation so that a financial investment can generate profit, never with the sole interest of making a contribution to society and to the welfare of those who live in it. So all that human organizational potential is diverted to a great machine for producing no matter what, no matter how, as long as it can be sold, and regardless of the environmental damage it may cause. The "progress" made was to produce more in less time, with fewer workers, to win in the competition, to take over new markets, destroying the old ones. Where thousands used to work, machines have reduced jobs to hundreds. Those hundreds work more hours at a more intense pace, when it would have been ideal for them to work fewer hours, with more rest and more rotation.
So the length of the work day has been an endless struggle between the exploited and the exploiters. Machinery did not bring us the 8-hour work day, although technological progress makes it possible to reduce the necessary working hours in society. The reduction of working hours was achieved through strikes, struggles, organization and deaths, such as those of the Martyrs of Chicago or the 44-day general strike in Barcelona that were key in obtaining an 8-hour work day, with 8 hours for rest and 8 hours for living.
In turn, industry under capitalist laws brought something horrible: the dehumanization of productive activity, turning workers into appendages, just another part of the machine, removing all human essence from the creation of objects and causing dissatisfaction with something that no longer feels like one’s own. No one wants the work day to begin, and we all look forward to when it ends. Work does not dignify (as the great myth would have us believe); it doesn’t belong to us; it makes us unhappy and we look forward to leaving it so that we can feel in control of our lives (although with other limitations). Work, which is what differentiates us and is the characteristic trait of human beings, should give us pleasure, make us feel that our activity is a contribution to society and that just a little effort would be enough to achieve this objective.
For those who own factories, companies, banks or lands, their source of wealth is still our work. The vast majority of the world population only has its labour power to survive. We use the power of our arms and legs, our time and skill for long hours. But in all those endless days in only a few hours of work we generate the equivalent of our salary, the payment that is just enough for us to survive so that we always have to come back the next day. All the rest of our work is kept by them, that small handful of capitalists who reflect daily on how to keep stealing from us and come up with ideas like outsourcing, hires through agencies, by short-term contract, faster-paced work, more hours, the trampling of our rights, lay-offs, etc., all of which ends up making the gap between rich and poor more and more unbearable.
When we communists say that we want a life free of all forms of oppression, we mean that we want a world without exploitation, where the means of production are no longer private and production is not governed by the desire for profit but by the needs of the entire society and in the greatest possible harmony with nature. Where each member of society who is able to work will be able to fulfill their quota of duty with the minimum number of hours required, 3 or 4 hours a day, 4 times a week, leaving the rest of the time to enjoy life, devote ourselves to entertainment, art, culture, study, science, caring for our health and all kinds of human expression in which we feel fulfilled.
This is the only way to create the conditions for an exponential development of society, leading to a new stage in the history of mankind.