Sometimes one reads a piece of news that should set the alarm bells of working class militants, anarchists, communists ringing loud and clear – should, but somehow doesn't. That strange mismatch between alarming news and an almost total lack of outrage struck me after I read reports that creditor insitutions involved in the Greek bailout/ imposed austerity programme want to impose a hugely longer working hours as a precondition for another bailout.
Here is how the Guardian puts it, in article published on September 4 .
“Greece's Eurozone creditors are demanding that the government in Athens introduce a six-day working week as part of the stiff terms for the country's second bailout. The demand is contained in a leaked letter of the 'troika' of the country's lenders, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.”
We get a quote from the letter:
“Measure: increase flexibility of working schedules: increase the number of maximuym workdays to six days per week for all sectors.”
“set the minimum daily rest to 11 hours, delink the working hours of employees from the opening hours of the establishment, eliminate restrictions on minimum/ maximum time between morning and afternoon shifts...”
A minimum daily rest of 11 hours means a maximum 13 hour working day. Six days a week, 13 hours a day. That is what the troika wants to impose on working class people in Greece, is so far they stil have jobs. Yes, I know, that working hours and weeks like these already exist, and not ony in Greece. But making such the official norms is something else again.
The whole idea is presented as an answer to the threat of structural unemployment. It is no such thing. If you make the same workers work longer hours and more days, the same number of workers simply will do more work (unless workers sabotage that objective through go-slows and so on, or by simply being too tired). That means that capitalists need fewer workers for the same amount of work. It is an intensification of exploitation of those with jobs. Reducing unemployment – even within bourgoeis economic logic - demands workers work fewer hours so the same amount of work among can be divided among more workers. Extending working days and hours works exactly in the opposite direction. It raises production per worker (though not per working hour). It may be good for profitability and competitiveness of Greek capital, which is probably part of the real reason behind this proposal. It means less workers working harder and longer, while leaving other workers without jobs.
It is also a horrific attack on already severely weakened protections of workers in Greece. Alongside the raising of the pension age, the lowering of wages and pensions, the layoffs in the public sector and so on, it is part of a deliberate pauperisation programme imposed ion workers by Greek and international capital. The goal is not just raising profits and so on. At the same time, apparently there is an experiment in operation, in the laboratory called Greece: how far can capital and state go in destroying workers' provisions and protections, without risking civil war, social revolution, or total social collapse?
And herien lies the international relevance of the proposal. If capital can get away with imposing a thirteen hour working day and a six day working week in Greece, will not capitalists and politicians elsewhere be encouraged to follow suit? They also want - and within capitalist logic they need - to raise profitability and competitiveness, at the back of workers. This is why the relative silence of even revolutionary and militant working class people and their supporters is so shocking, so hurtful. If the workers in Greece can be forced to work these kind of days and weeks without working class protests and resistance, without an international outcry, the sooner the threat will knock at our door in other countries as well.
What happens in Greece should be treated as a warning, which we should heed. On September 26th, the official trade union movement in Greece will hold another 24-hour general strike. Some indication of international solidarity would not be bad, and rising an outcry against of the 13 hour working day and 6 day working week might as well be part of such an indication. What threatens the workers in Athens, threatens us all.