7. Our working day

The 30 hour working-day
Lower living standards and uncertainty of employment are relentlessly pushing both women and men into multiple jobs.

Working time has increased beyond the eight-hour shift into overtime and additional part-time work. For example, production schedules and deadlines for television programmes and films assume one and a half shifts (8hours + 4hours) everyday as a matter of course.

In many industries such long hours are compulsory. An employee cannot refuse to do overtime work. 'Work to rule' is considered an agitation and disciplinary actions are taken by the bosses.

At places where overtime is not made compulsory, compulsions of survival operate and workers get overtime work as a favour from managements and union leaders.

Companies are trying to do away with the legal provision of payment for overtime at double the ordinary rate. Many do this blatantly while some have tried to camouflage it by renaming it as 'overstay'. Some companies have started giving a 'hardship allowance' instead of over-time - this monthly allowance equals what would be the over-time allowance for one day.

The working-day indicates the hours of wage-work, the wages for which are sufficient for the sustenance of a domestic unit.

This concept dates from the nineteenth century and meant the hours of wage-work put in by one person for the sustenance of a family - because the phenomenon of families with more than one wage-worker had not spread. For a domestic unit, therefore, comparison between the working-day prevailing in the present and the working-day prevalent in the past requires that we take into account the number of wage-workers in a household and the size of the household.

Today, the working day comprises of shift work, over-time and part-time work of the husband, shift-work, overtime and part-time work done by the wife and the wage-work done by the children and the older members of the household.

Overtime and multiple jobs by men and by women are the norm today. Child-workers and student-workers are common. For the old, retirement usually means a shift to lower paid jobs. And the size of families has shrunk. Also, the institution of the family is giving way to new kinds of domestic units.

In the latter part of the 19th century the struggle for shorter working-hours, in some areas, took the form of struggle for an eight-hour workday.

In a famous incident in 1886, known also as the Haymarket Riot, police and working men battled in Chicago during a demonstration for an eight-hour workday. Hangings and imprisonment for workers followed the confrontation.

The same Chicago city was in 1989 the site for strikes by workers demanding statutory limits to over-time, legal limit of 10-hours shift a day and a weekly rest day. The striking hotel workers had to work 12-13 hours daily for more than 10 days at a stretch. Similarly, municipality workers in Chicago have to work thirteen hours a day without any weekly holiday. 1

The difference in the working-day of 1886 and that of 1989 is enormous.

In 1886, predominantly male workers were agitating for a working-day of 8-hours which would give them enough wage to rear a family. The family meant three or four children, at the least, as well as grand-parents.

In 1989 both men and women workers agitated for the legal limit of a 10-hour shift. The overtime and part-time jobs they have to do are in addition to this. Still neither men nor women workers are able to earn enough even to support their partners. Together they find it difficult to raise one child, and even grand parents work, or live in old-age homes.

Believe it or not ! The working hours per day for a domestic unit nowadays stretch to more than 30 hours.
Hours of shift-work of the woman - 8 hours
Hours of shift-work of the man - 8 hours
Hours of overtime /part-time wage work of man - 4-6 hours
Hours of overtime /part-time wage work of woman - 2-4 hours
Hours of wage work by children and elders - 4-6 hours
Total 26 - 32 hours

Time for commuting to and fro between place of work and residence is besides these hours, and so is the drudgery of domestic work.

The 8-hours working-day - an official fiction
It is difficult to believe that there exists a myth that we have a shorter working-day than earlier. It is merely an official. This is definitely a case of seduction at work .

There is an ambiguity between the meanings of the eight-hour day and the eight-hour shift. This ambiguity actually obscures a significant setback for workers in this century. What has been implemented in industries is the eight-hour work-shift - it is deceptively called the eight-hour workday.

Workers, who are supposed to believe this, work twelve, thirteen, fourteen hours a day. Presently, ten hours of work is the minimum that is put in by most workers in a day. The working time for an individual includes shift-time, over-time work and part-time work. The working day is made up of the working times of man, woman and children constituting the domestic unit.

If the Haymarket incident in Chicago in 1886 was a watershed, it did not mark a victorious culmination of the struggle for an eight-hour day. Rather, it was the beginning of the reversal in which the struggle for the eight-hour working-day got assimilated in the move towards the implementation of the eight-hour shift.

There has been an immense increase in the working-day because of the increase in the number of people forced to do wage-work to maintain a domestic unit.

Managers of extraction rave and grunt " labour is costly ".

Managers of seduction amplify this into a hysterical chorus. Jokers chime in with a 4 -hour working-day !

The 4-hour working day !

"A 30-hour working-day ?
Poor souls !
While our company has announced a four-day 36-hour week !"

World Bank's 'Human Development Report 1994' propagates a slogan 'work less, earn less and everybody works' as the answer to the simultaneous problems of overwork and unemployment. In a situation where today's minuscule families are finding it difficult to subsist even after a wage work of 30-hours, the overseers of the present system seem to suggest that if the presently employed workers worked lesser hours and earned lesser, it would solve their problems .

The document (HDR 1994) is meant to be transformed into strategies, its implementation by policy makers and managements finally necessitating, as always, violent means. This strategy would mean that wage-workers must somehow divide their ever shrinking share of global produce amongst themselves, and must not eye the excessive expenses of governments, militaries and institutions.

The Report calls for the shorter 4-hour shift, and 3-4 days work a week with a corresponding cut in wages. This implies that workers have to work at more jobs to be able to survive. Shorter shift necessitate multiple jobs and managements can pocket the lunch break and the tea break, beside increasing the pace of work as the hours in each job are less !

The report goes on to say :

"The idea of job sharing is gathering momentum.. Rather than a five-day work week for some workers, with others remaining unemployed, the work week should be reduced to, say, four days with a corresponding pay cut, so that more people can share the available work."

Planners and executors are using a rhetoric of 36-hour week while implementing a 36-hour working-day. What this 'job sharing' actually implies is that workers be made to move beyond the present state of two or three jobs for sustaining a small family, to a state where every individual would need multiple jobs just to sustain himself or herself. Whether workers are able to get and continue in even one job is another issue.

If this sounds too harsh a judgement on the present system, then one must take care to note that the number of people doing two and even three jobs simultaneously is multiplying. Even according to government statistics, where obfuscation is always the norm, seven million Americans do fifteen million jobs. Most multiple jobholders are married and, increasingly, nearly as many are women as men.

The World Bank report continues :

"In France, subsidiary of the computer company Hewlett-Packard has introduced a more flexible four-day week for workers. This has enabled the plant to be run seven days a week, round the clock, rather than five days on day shifts. Production has tripled, employment has risen 20%, and earnings have remained unchanged. For France, it has been estimated that the universal adoption of a four-day, 33-hour work week with an average 55% reduction in salary would create around two million new jobs - and save $28 billion in unemployment insurance."

It requires little reading between the lines to figure out that the Hewlett-Packard plant runs for at least thrice the time it used to operate before the 'reforms' ; production has increased by 200% while workers have increased only by 20% ; and wages remain the same, or actually money wages remain the same and buying capacity has therefore decreased.

The substantial increase in working hours and intensity of work is obvious, but it is sought to be hidden behind the rhetoric of the 4-day week. The reduced expenses on unemployment dole are additional incentives for the state.

These are only some of the examples of the reforms being implemented all over the world. The turbulence which became visible in France during late 1995, and which is hapening in Seoul in early 1997, is therefore only a prefiguration of workers' response to governmental attempts all over the world.

WOMEN'S EMANCIPATION ? !

"An honest woman and a broken leg are best at home".
- Miguel Cervantes (1547-1616), 'Don Quixote'

"Motherhood is the sweet dream of the maiden, the glad hope for the wife, and the deep regret of the ageing woman who has not had this yearning satisfied."2

"For men must work and women must weep , And the sooner it's over, the sooner to sleep."
- Charles Kingsley (1819-1875), 'The Three Fishers'

Soon after the beginning of the factory system and wage-work, women were bombarded by propaganda that idealised motherhood and women's domestic roles - and created the notion of men outside, and women at home. This came to be accepted as the natural order of things, even though the ideal often conflicted with reality.

Over the course of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, many a woman started doing piecework at home and some began leaving homes to take paid employment. Many a reasons are flaunted for this : the husband is no good, the woman is greedy, the family wants to rise ... . What is usually not talked about is the lowering of wages, which turned women into wage-workers inspite of patriarchal wisdom which said :

A DISSATISFIED MOTHER ON DOMESTIC SLAVERY AUSTRIA 1899

"... the causes of my discontent, my anxiety, my neurasthenia, lie much deeper ; they lie in the unavoidable circumstances which nature has conferred upon me as a consequence of motherhood. Oh yes, be amazed, horrified, whatever you want, but believe me, we women, we who have thoughts and aspirations, we who through serious intellectual activities have come to a higher state of civilisation - we are so far removed from contact with nature that the so-called sweet joys of motherhood cause us more tortures than a quiet thinking man can imagine.

I know for certain that for many women the moment a child is born their world dissolves, their own ego no longer exists, their selflessness goes so far that they no longer know any of their own pleasures, and since they continuously descend to the level of the child's intelligence, they are ultimately lost to any other kind of intellectual activity. As the child begins to develop his/her mental powers and widens his/her circle of interest, he sets an intellectual standard for the mother educating him. Then he is left to his devices because other children follow whose care and protection now completely consume the already mentioned mothers. These are the mothers who through tradition, education and talent have become 'true women', who personify all the attributes so highly regarded : resignation, sacrifice and an absence of 'ego'... You don't know how much pain it causes to be dragged down by unavoidable conditions into a morass of dullness and indifference towards the outside world ...".3

Lower wage women into wage-work
Initially most women doing wage work were young and single. Women would quit work when they married or soon afterwards when they had children. Privation and declining living standards did force a number of married women to work for wages, but a working married woman indicated her husband's failure.

This 'failure among men' to be able to earn a wage sufficient to support a family (which itself is shrinking, sometimes out of existence), has been on an increase. The fall in wages, increase in the minimum required amenities to survive as wage-workers, high rates of disease and injury due to harsh working conditions, unavailability of continuous work - all these factors, primarily, have merged to push women into places of wage-work.

By and by, people in many parts of the world came to terms with the fact that most women would spend a period in the labour market before marriage. However, this permission rarely extended to 'respectable households' in the 19th century in Europe and USA, and in other places till later.

Women, and especially married women, have entered the labour market in rising numbers in the twentieth century. What has been emphasised in such developments is women's freedom to choose from amongst different options. What is not talked about are the restraints on women's freedom.

Another step in the increase of women's wage work was that young wives began commonly not only to have pre-marital experience of paid work, but frequently stayed in their jobs for a few years until the birth of their first child. Often retiring from the labour force in their mid-twenties, they tended to produce two to four children in relatively quick succession. They then devoted energies and talents to the home front until the youngest was in primary school or beyond. When children were regarded as safely launched, their mothers were increasingly likely to return to remunerated work. This return, or the second stage of marital paid employment, was another step in the increase in wage-work.

Wage-work is not emancipation
Women's opposition to patriarchal norms and their compulsion to take up wage-work have blurred the image of domestic slavery as well as wage-slavery. Many people argue that work outside the home is a liberating and rewarding experience for women, one that allows them to fully develop their intellectual and human potential. Wage-slavery is portrayed as emancipation. At the time when wage-slavery began, and primarily men were drafted into the ranks of wage-slaves, wage-work was theorised as emancipation from feudal bondage or 'peasant idiocy'. Now wage-work by women is theorised as emancipation from domestic drudgery.

Wage work in factories or workshops, in clerical posts, in schools & laboratories, in the sports-field or in retail stores with regimentation, repetition, physical burdens and spiritual turmoil is hardly liberating, creative, or fulfilling. For working class women and men work is neither joyful nor creative. Wage-work is meaningless. Jobs are boring and repetitious, they provide no intellectual or spiritual rewards and provide no satisfaction. The severe regimentation of factory life, which now pervades all spheres of life, destroys vitality and intelligence. It is not paid work but rather free moments away from jobs and housework that give meaning to life.

TRIPLE TOIL GERMANY 1930

"... I have been forced to go to work... Since I have almost an hour's train ride, get up early...(4:15 a.m.). the train leaves at 5:10 a.m. and arrives at 5:55 a.m. Since our work day begins at 6:00 a.m. I have to run a long-distance race from the train station to the factory in order to be on time. At the factory I clean carding comb machines until 2:15 p.m. My train for home does not depart until 5:13 p.m. I have to wait so long at the train station. I am home about 6:00 p.m. Then there is more work to do at home... As a rule my Sunday starts about 7:00 a.m., since there is house cleaning and clothes to do. Then lunch is prepared. About 2:00 p.m. Sunday actually begins for me...".4

  • 1. FMS.
  • 2. E.S. Riemer & J.C. Font, 'European Women : A Documentary History', Schoken Books, New York 1980.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Ibid.

Comments

Y
Oct 25 2013 13:01

Excellent. I've reposted and linked this article to my Global Strike Action page on Facebook.