What Reduction of Working Time? - Communism #10

The following text was first published in Communism No.2 in 1985. At that time we were faced with language difficulties that made our texts in English quite obscure for our readers. Now, thanks to the effort of more and more English-speaking comrades, the texts published in Communism are far easier to read. This is one reason why we are republishing this text. Another more important reason is that fighting to reduce working time is a moment of the revolutionary struggle against work. In 1985, we wanted to denounce the ideology of trade-unions and Leftists; at the end of the 90's, this denunciation is just as valid. There is continual talk about reducing working time: left and right, Labour and Tories, "CP", Trotskyists, Maoists, nationalists, fascists,... it has become a universal recipe for unemployment, the solution to capitalist crisis.

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One of the bourgeoisie's strengths is its presentation of the reforms necessary for the accumulation of capital as working class conquests, as is the case with the so-called 'reduction in working time', preached by unions and left-wing parties throughout the world.

In their continuous search for extraordinary surplus value, capitalists are obliged to constantly update and modernise their means of production in order to increase productivity. Increases in productivity result, above all, from an ever more continuous, methodical and intense use of productive forces, the most important of which is labour power. As capital changes its methods of work, it also transforms labour power and men themselves, since it changes the relation of men to work. For proletarians, this always means an increase in the rate of exploitation; first, because wages do not depend upon the production of wealth and second, because any growth in productivity implies an increase in the intensity of work. Under capital, the installation of new machines always gives rise to an accentuation of the division of work, to the more rigorous, more scientific and more rational organisation of working time, submitting proletarians to stricter rules, regulations and obligations. This is the hunt for 'dead time', the struggle against absenteeism, the development of mobility of the workforce, continuous surveillance, stepping up the pace...

Faced with this perpetual reinforcement of exploitation, one of the working class's constant demands has been, and still is, the reduction in working time. The bourgeoisie is therefore trying to identify this proletarian demand with a "legal limit on the working day" (without which social labour could not be intensified and rendered more productive of surplus-value) in order to make the "workers' movement" the linchpin of reformism, of capital's permanent reform.

The "legal reduction in working time" has nothing to do with a reappropriation of time by the workers and is just a formal reduction in working time, only measured quantitatively by the chronometer without any regard for its quality (intensity, density). This measure, far from being a step towards the emancipation of the proletariat, only aims to adapt the labour power, the living labour, to the new conditions of exploitation, to make them accept the increasing dependence of the worker on capitalist machines, to reinforce the division and programming of their lives according to the needs of capitalist production, making them, at work as in their leisure time, simple reproducers of surplus-value.

The reduction in working time as an expression of the proletariat's emancipation from its secular enslavement to work can only be real in the context of intense struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie, in which the class imposes its demands, antagonistic to the capitalist mode of production, by force.

It is therefore necessary to distinguish between increase in productivity and intensification of work. Under capital, both concepts are closely linked because productivity cannot be increased without reinforcing the intensity of work and the exploitation of the proletariat. Under proletarian dictatorship, however, any increase in productivity will lessen the intensity of work and reduce the exploitation of the proletariat. Communism, because it responds to human needs rather than the need to accumulate capital, because it will free the development of productive forces from the shackles of the capitalist production relationship, will achieve (for example by generalised automation) a far greater productivity at the same time as abolishing all work.

The constant increase in surplus-labour

Whereas the serf, for example, worked half the time on his own land and the other half on his lord's, which made his exploitation obvious, the wage labourer receives a salary for his whole day of work, which then appears to have been paid in full. The exploitation of free labour is hidden by the abstract character of work, creator of value, object of a wage payment:

"The private works of isolated individuals do not acquire the character of social labour in the concrete form in which they were used in the process of production, but can only acquire it through exchange, which represents an abstraction of particular objects and of specific forms of work."

(I.I. Rubin, "Essays on Marx's Theory of Value").

In the capitalist mode of production, all commodities (including labour power) must be made equal, reduced to a common denominator, in order to be able to be exchanged: value or abstract work, whose measure is the social working time crystallized within it necessary for their reproduction. Every commodity is therefore sold at its value (the law of supply and demand making the prices oscillate around this average). So, the worker sells his labour power by the day while, for example, one hour of work would be enough to produce the value necessary to reproduce his own force. By working one hour a day, the worker would have produced enough wealth to exchange for his means of subsistence (food, clothes, lodging...) The wage is the payment for this necessary work, without which the proletarian would not be able to maintain nor reproduce himself. So, by paying the labour power at its value, the capitalist can appropriate the work done during the remaining hours of the day without owing anything to the proletarian, since the contract and the principle that each merchandise is bought at its value have been respected. We call this part of the work which is appropriated by the bourgeoisie surplus-labour. The value created during this surplus-labour is called surplus-value. The relation between necessary labour and surplus-labour or between wages and surplus-value is the rate of exploitation.

We have just seen that the working day can be broken down into two parts: necessary labour and surplus-labour. The capitalist mode of production can only develop by continually reducing necessary labour and increasing surplus-labour. For marxists, this relation between necessary and surplus labour is fundamental - not only is the reduction in daily working time compatible with the extension of surplus-labour but it is one of the forces permitting the extension of this free labour.

One possibility for the capitalists to increase surplus-labour is to lengthen the working day, however the struggle of the working class to reduce working time has been one of the elements that has pushed capitalists to increase surplus-labour by reducing necessary labour (1).

"But when the surplus-value has to be produced by the conversion of necessary labour into surplus-labour, it by no means suffices for capital to take the labour process in the form under which it has heen historically handed down, and then simply to prolong the duration of that process. The technical and social conditions of the process, and consequently the very mode of production must be revolutionised, before the productiveness of labour can be increased. By that means only can the value of labour power be made to sink, and the portion of working day necessary for the reproduction of that value be shortened."

(Marx, "Capital")

If a capital A can produce, using new production techniques, a greater amount of goods with less workers than its rivals, it will be able to sell its products at a lower price than its rivals (and will even be forced to if it wants to move the greatest number of goods), but at a higher price than their cost of production (less living work is crystallised in them and, therefore, less wages and more profit) until the value of identical commodities on the market decreases as a consequence of the generalisation of the production process and extraordinary surplus-value thus disappears. It is through this incessant process that every capitalist is continually on the look-out for technical innovations, as it is only by conquering rival markets that he can gain this extraordinary surplus-value.

Forced to increase surplus-labour by reducing necessary-labour, every capitalist is therefore pushed to increase productivity which decreeases the social labour time crystallised in each commodity and, in this way, gives rise to a fall in their value. This drop in value also applies to the labour-power commodity, signifying a reduction in necessary labour. Temporarily, this decrease in the value of labour power makes it possible to realise extraordinary surplus-value. But within this need to reduce necessary Iabour lies capitalism's fundamental contradiction, between the process of permanent valorisation and devalorisation. Although the only source of profit, surplus-value, is just the living labour contained within each commodity, the growth in productiveness (or increase in the organic component of capital) always signifies an increase in dead labour (technological development) compared to living labour (development of labour power). The realisation of extraordinary surplus-value thus accentuates the decline in the rate of profit.

One can therefore understand that the costs of investment are continuously rising tend to lower the rate of profit (relation between profit realised and the sum of invested capital). At the same time, the constant fall in the value of commodities gives rise to an accelerated devalorisation of fixed capital (buildings, machines, tools). The cost of these machines has to write itself off in a shorter and shorter time, requiring the workforce to achieve maximum profitability: the machines must be operated day and night in order to extract enough surplus-value and decrease the cost of the labour power. This is why, under capitalist production, any increase in productivity means an increase in proletarians' enslavement to machines, to dead labour.

Productivity today is capital's productivity. Capital is not concerned with producing two goods instead of one in order to halve man's suffering - on the contrary, it is concerned, above all else, that a greater surplus-value be realised in these two goods in order to compensate for the devalorisation of commodities produced with less and less living labour. Every increase in productivity is therefore accompanied by a relative decrease in wages (relative to the quantity of wealth produced), a decrease in necessary labour and an increase in surplus labour. It is a fundamental reality of Marxism that the degree of exploitation is relative because it is social and historical that enables us to understand the growing antagonism between proletariat and bourgeoisie and to demystify all the "social gains", the "increases buying power", the "reduction in working time".

In Belgium, for example, statistics from the "Université Catholique de Louvain" show that there was an 11% cut in working hours between 1960 and 1973. But what the bourgeoisie does not reveal is that this "progress" is due to the extraordinary rise in work productivity, enabling the workers to produce the same amount of goods in 1973 as in 1960, in only 43% of the working time. If this rise in work productivity had entirely been in the workers' favour and had been used to reduce working time, it could have been reduced not by 11% but by 57%, which would have meant working less than 20 hours a week! (See the article "Le 'Maintien du pouvoir d'achat', un mot d'ordre reactionnaire" in Le Communiste No.4)

To limit the cost of new investments as much as possible, the capitalist is obliged to slow down the development of fixed capital. To increase productivity, he will centre the modernisation of his productive apparatus on the search for better ways of intensifying the work of proletarians. It is this need to increase the intensity of work that forces capital to reduce the length of the working day, not in order to reduce work, but to increase it.

"Given that any animal force's capacity for action is inversely proportionate to the time during which it is active, at certain limits one gains in efficiency what one loses in duration (...) The enormous impulse that the shortening of the working day gives to the development of mechanical systems and to cost-cutting obliges the worker also, by making more of an effort, to provide greater activity over the same period and thus to condense the work to a degree that he would never have been able to reach without this shortening."

"There is no doubt that the tendancy of capital to save itself by the systematic intensification of labour and to transform every perfectioning of the mechanical system into a new means of exploitation must lead to the point where a further reduction in working hours becomes inevitable."

(Marx, "Capital")

The duration of working time: the expression of a worldwide balance of forces between the classes

Historically, capital developed itself by the use of forced labour and by the extension of the working day to its most extreme limits. The descendants of serfs, who were kicked off communal lands and driven out of the countryside by farming, were sent where the first textile manufacturing was being set up, crammed into new industrial centres and locked up in workhouses. Those who tried to escape, the "vagabonds", were pursued pitilessly, maimed and killed (in mass hangings), made examples of in order to terrify proletarians. From Negroes and American Indians to European serfs, they all ended up in these urban industrial penal colonies (factories) or rural ones (plantations). All of them were subjected to the misery of "primitive" expropriation and it was under the terror of weapons, hunger and total misery that they were educated about the ultimate form of exploitation: wage labour.

All the bourgeois who know a little about history admit the truth of these facts but do not see the irreversible class antagonism indicated by them. On the contrary, they only see them as past excesses that progress has left behind, a bygone period. One of their most effective arguments is to highlight the reduction in the working day (16, 14, 12, 10, 8... hours). These are facts that the workers cannot refute, that can be used to convince them that capitalism is not such an inhuman system and that enable the bourgeoisie to paint the "leisure society", the "era of free time" in glowing colours, to present it as a just reward for so many years of effort and work for capital, for all the services rendered to society. But these are just pipedreams, confirmation of the narrow-mindedness of the bourgeois, who substitute their ideal vision of their own class situation, of their society, for the reality of the world.

In the historical centres of accumulation and concentration of capital, the big cities of South America, North America, Europe, Africa, where millions have been put to work, the legal duration of the working day is on the decrease. However, this is soley due to the fantastic development of productivity, which has allowed capital to stabilize social turmoil and to impose social peace by granting "advantages" to certain categories of proletarians, whilst at the same time increasing the extraction of surplus-value, the rate of exploitation. Similarly, the only way of achieving capitalist valorisation in poorly populated, deserted areas is to maintain extremely long working days to compensate for the weak organic composition of capital, making the working conditions of these workers similar to "historically outmoded" social relations.

In some parts of the U.S.A., for example, (the symbol of "developed society"), the extraction of surplus value takes the form of slavery (see the article in Comunismo No.7 on the working conditions of the clandestine immigrants in Texas, Florida, Virginia...). The flourishing multinational food company "Gulf and Western" has its offices in ultra-modern buildings in New York, where its employees work according to the U.S. company legal standards. However, it obtains its raw materials in Haiti where it is public knowledge that the sugar piantations are real slave-camps (work with practically no rest, miserable wages, permanent military surveillance of the agricultural workers...). But it is not only in America that wage labour can be seen to be no more than a life sentence of forced labour. There are the Siberian labour camps, those in South Africa, Mauritania, Mali, as well as the concentration "communities" in Cambodia, China, Haiti... Where is the industrial centre in which "black work" is not a major, or even an essential, factor for the economy? New York, Chicago, Hong-Kong, they all have their "sweatshops" and masses of home-workers:

"after eight or nine hours in workshops, the employees take their piece of work home where they continue for another five or six hours...the working conditions in the sweatshops are barely imaginable, it is not rare to see thirty sewing machines crammed into a small room with no ventilation, window, nor door other than the front door."

(Le Monde Diplomatique, March 1982)

The "clandestine" dress-making workshops of Paris are well known and factories for children in Naples and Bangkok no longer surprise the bourgeois press.

"The number of children and teenagers less than 15 years old who work throughout the world has increased again over the last two years. Today we calculate at least 55 million, but experts state that this figure grossly underestimates the true extent of the phenomenon."

(Le Monde, 10-11/5/1981, from an investigation by the International Labour Bureau)

"Industrial subcontracting drains sections of workers from major metropolitan industry everywhere... In Italy, small businesses, revived by the crisis, functioning on the edge of legality and clandestinity, are often considered to be the basis of the 'second Italian miracle'. In Japan, recent investigations have shown that subcontracting is an essential key to the present success of Japanese products on the world market... Forms of working at home, subcontracting techniques and the "sweating systems", thought to have all but disappeared in the West, have taken on a new lease of life as sectors controlled by major industry. Thus, the dispersed factory (or, as the Italians call it, "diffuse industry") has to be regarded as one of the particularities of the new organisation of productive space."

(Le Monde Diplomatique, January 1982)

By portraying these facts as excesses of the capitalist system, or as left-overs from pre-capitalist social relations, the bourgeoisie does not only conceal their true extent, but also gives credibility to "normal", "legal" work. But whether produced in "clandestine" workshops or in recognised factories, commodities are the same, produced to valorise capital, in both places the proletarian selling his labour power in order to survive. The needs of proletarians working there are never satisfied: unemployment, for example, mainly affects workers in "official" companies but the black markets and industrial penal-colonies feed off the misery emanating from society. For us, there is no real difference between proletarian labour in New York, Haiti and the Siberian mines and we think it is vital to assert the similarity of wage-slavery all over the world (see the article on worker-aristocracy in Le Communiste No.10/11).

Some bourgeois claim that the "historical" reduction in working time is a materialization of the gains of the workers' movement, proof that capitalism and socialism can coexist and that there can be a progressive and peaceful transition from one to the other. It is always dangerous for the bourgeoisie to reverse reductions in working time that were give up under the pressure of workers' struggles without compromising the credibility of its social system (for example, the 40 hours in France in 1936, the 8 hour day in "Soviet" Russia and in Germany following the revolutionary struggles of 1917-1923). After crushing the revolutionary wave of the 1920's, in the name of the workers' well-being, the bourgeoisie was obliged to increase productivity fast, in order to increase the rate of exploitation. The resulting deep and violent changes in the organic composition of capital (increase in constant capital compared to variable capital) led to an exacerbation of competition and conflicts between the different centres of capitalist concentration. The valorisation of capital forced the appropriation and/or destruction of rival productive forces. This mutual destruction, especially of labour power and the generalisation of forced and militarised labour-camps across the planet, represent the supposed "gains" of the working class movement.

In 1848, when the English parliament voted the first laws limiting the length of the working day (the Factory Act), it was to put an end to workers' agitation that was threatening to turn into civil war. After the legislation ruling a 10 hour day (which was accompanied by a wage-cut of 25 %) the "working class, declared criminal, was struck by prohibition and put under the law of suspects" (Marx, "Capital"). In the same way, in France, reforms promulgated after February 1848 "enforced the same limit to the working day on all workshops and factories, without distinction, (...) declaring as a principle what had been gained in England in the name of women, children and miners only." (Marx, "Capital"). However, they were soon followed by the bloody crushing of the June insurrection in Paris. The bourgeois used this link between "the constant pressure of the workers' agitating from the outside" and legislative intervention, to rapidly transform working-class struggle into a fight for rights and social laws passed by the State to reform its own system for "social gains".

It was under the threat of proletarian revolt and brewing civil war that the bourgeois class disciplined and unified itself, in spite of many obstacles, at the heart of the State, defender of the general interests of the bourgeois class. Laws limiting the length of the working day supervened when the interdependence of companies had been sufficiently developed by the division of labour and it had become vital for the bourgeoisie to avoid social unrest -caused by the excesses of some capitalists who were "behind the times"- unrest which could compomise the whole of capital. In the same way it became necessary for social reproduction to adapt the workers to their continuously transforming tools and new living conditions. This is why the State passed laws limiting women's labour time and banning child labour, yet at the same time introducing obligatory schooling and a family code (the obligation of domestic work at home).

But despite the reduction in labour time, the proletarian's time is increasingly submitted to capital's needs, be it in his working time, the time taken to travel between home and workplace, the time needed to sort out all the administration imposed upon him - police, union, social security business, etc., the time taken for professional training, the time he needs to treat his work-induced ailments, the time to reproduce his labour power... all this social time belongs to capital.

Social laws only materialise the bourgeois pretention to manage a system of production based on enslavement to labour, whilst conferring it with some scientific and humanitarian legitimacy. They are no more than the formalisation of the bourgeoisie's humanist and progressist principles that "the worker sells his labour power in order to reproduce it, not to destroy it" and that "even the interests of capital demand a normal working day of him."

"Their fantastic development (that of the major branches of industry in which the 10 hour law had been applied) from 1853 to 1860, hand in hand with the physical and moral renaissance of the workers, even struck the least perceptive. The manufacturers themselves, from whom the legal limitation and laws on the working day had been torn limb by limb by half a century's civil war, made the contrast that existed between the still "free" branches of exploitation and the establishments that had submitted to the law stand out ostentatiously."

(Marx, "Capital")

At the time, Marx was already concluding that, far from being the product of a revolutionary transformation of society, "the minutely detailed edicts which ruled the period militarily and precisely, the limits and the breaks in work (...) were born from the circumstances and developed bit by bit as natural laws of the modern mode of production."

The so-called "historical" reduction in France

Affected by the world crisis, all states are faced with the collapse of their "growth rate" (rate of profit). There is a surplus production of goods and at the same time an accelerated devalorisation of fixed capital, which forces the capitalists to restrain investment. In response to this investment crisis (described by the left and the unions as "the flight of capital"), the bourgeoisie busies itself with the umpteenth "industrial restructuration" (discovery of new forms of organisation and management of work). But they are unable to grasp and solve the fundamental factor which gives rise to devalorisation: the contradiction and growing antagonism at the heart of the commodity between use value and exchange value. The measures they take only postpone the inevitable bankruptcies, whilst imposing the needs and interests of the dominant class on the proletarians. By attributing the causes of, or the answers to, crises to the question of form (neo-liberalism or, on the contrary, Keynsian politics, self-management or co-management), the bourgeoisie is arming itself to crush the revolutionary proletariat. The "false consciousness" of the bourgeoisie is dictated by its dominant class position which it has to defend. Thus, behind governmental reforms, are always fundamental class interests. The call for "a reduction in working time to 39 hours a week" by the Socialist government in France, signifies the launching of a new period of systematic attacks on the proletariat.

All capital needs is to render labour power more and more submissive and available in order to control its use and its cost, according to the demands of valorisation, restructuration and concentration. By trying to pass off any increase in productivity as the result of mechanical advances, without recognizing the inevitable intensification of work that it entrains for proletarians, socialist governments make a purely capitalist measure look like a "workers' victory", thus pushing the workers to consider their interests and those of the national economy to be one and the same. Sacrifices, austerity measures, discipline and work are the very principles of the "solidarity" referred to so often by the government. The same principle and reality exists behind any so-called alternatives such as unemployment or a distribution of work that would permit a reduction in working time: an absolute reduction in wages, a supplementary measure aiming to totally submit the proletariat to the bourgeois state.

The "historic" shift from the 40 to the 39 hour week in France must be seen in the context of the general tendency of all governments, whatever their political "colour", to reduce the legal working time. The official length of the working week in manufacturing industry was changed between 1970 and 1979 from 44.9 to 43.22 in Great Britain, 43.3 to 40.6 in Japan and 39.9 to 35.4 in Belgium. Between 1974 and 1980 the greatest reductions were seen in Norway and Israel, being at least 4 hours. While the working week was 40.6 hours in France in 1980, it was 39.7 in the USA, 39.1 in Australia, 37.7 in Austria, 33.4 in Belgium and 32.9 in Denmark... (Le Monde, 16.2.82).

The whole agreement on "the reduction in working time" signed by the bosses and trade unions in France was guided by the aim to make their industry more competitive, thanks to a more systematic use of fixed capital (the duration of use of equipment in the automobile industry reached 6150 hours in the USA, 4000 to 4600 hours in Japan and 3700 to 4000 hours in France) and a greater flexibility of the work timetable (in the USA as in Japan, timetables are well adapted to the needs of the market and overtime is practiced on a large scale, between 10 and 15% in Japan).

"Investments in industrial equipment decrease by 12% in 1981" said a headline in Le Monde on 9 June 1982. According to the Libération on 14 September 1981, "since 1975 all increases in wealth are the result of efficiency improvements in production". In order compensate for lack of investment, the bourgeoisie strives to maximise the profitability of its machines by having them operated day and night, by a more mobile, flexible and less expensive mass of proletarians.

With the deepening of the crisis, teamwork and shiftwork has become generalised. Shiftwork is standard for a third of the workers and half of these work on night-shifts. The steel, textile and paper industries and the mines traditionally had the greatest numbers of shift workers, up to 85%. Over the past few years, this mode of work has extended to the food industry and the service sector. The percentage of workers on shifts in processing industry more than doubled between 1957 and 1977. This increase in shift work has to be seen in relation to the record growth in productivity: the quantity of goods produced in one hour by Belgian industry almost tripled over the same period.

The French Prime minister can say what he likes, that "reforms will make the machines sweat instead of men, that they will improve the relationship between man and his work and that this will create new and more skilled jobs", but a simple run-down of the application of their measures refutes these promises:

extension of shiftwork with a fifth team to enable work around the clock.

generalisation of temporary work, with short term contracts.

extension of overnight work for women and week end work.

the fight against "dead time" to make the each of the 35 hours work effective.

overtime payments to be limited to only 25% more of usual wages.

As Minister Auroux said: "Increasing productivity is not a mechanical operation, but rather reflects a kind of support by the wage labourers."

These working conditions plan the life of workers to the rhythm and demands of capitalist valorisation. Frequently changing timetables disorganise the rhythm of life of the workers, many of whom are exhausted, with disturbed sleep and eating patterns. Experiments have shown that night work requires more physical and nervous energy to achieve the same production and that morbidity of shift workers is higher than the average. Consequently, the "socialist government's 39 hour week" is actually aiming to generalise an increase in the intensity of work and of the exploitation of proletarians. It is this that Prime Minister Mauroy called "the improvement of the relationship between man and his work" (2). For him, as for Stalin and all capitalists: "Man is the most precious capital".

There was no need to wait for Raymond Barre to congratulate the Socialist government to understand that the agreements on the "reduction in working time" were the beginning of a major attack on the working class. Just a few months after the legislation was passed the Socialist government established what was referred to as "pecuniary compensation", which turned out to be nothing but a direct attack on wages. New "solidarity taxes" were leeched from civil servants and "solidarity" contracts drawn up between unions and bosses (wage-cuts from 1,6 % at Gervais-Danone and B.S.N. to 20% at Fleury-Michon). The left-wing government made generalised wage-cuts obligatory. It was the rises in V.A.T. on manufactured goods and services, devaluation, wage freezes, decreases in unemployment benefits -all attacks on proletarians' real wages- that served to finance the aid to industry agreed upon in the "solidarity contracts" ("the companies which succeed in reducing working time to 36 hours a week by September 1983 will be free from social security subscriptions for any extra job vacancies arising from the reduction in working time").

The constant increase in unemployment (now more than 2 million under the Socialist government) refutes the "socialist solutions" to unemployment in practice. While Minister Delors admitted that "the shift from 40 to 39 hours has not created new jobs", the so-called reduction in working time, presented as the spearhead of the fight against unemployment, revealed its true aim: a systematic attack on the working class. The French Socialists' employment plans only signify attacks on the "longterm unemployed", cuts in unemployment benefit, increases in the intensity of work and general wage-cuts. The Mauroy plans are merely a repetition of those implemented by the bourgeoisie throughout the world.

In this way, the left not only brings in permanent cuts in relative wages, as every reduction in hours must be accompanied by an increase in productivity (of 10% at Gervais-Danone) and therefore of the intensity of work, but they also plan a drop in real wages (buying power). Yet Mauroy still declared that "the excessive rises in nominal revenue and wages are preventing our economy from creating jobs. The government has decided to act!" When can we expect a general drop in nominal wages?

The French government, like all governments, tries to promote the distribution of work, that is to say varying timtetables throughout the year in order to, in the words of the president of Air-France, "compensate for the rigidity of the organisation of working time, which leads to the often insufficient yearly use of more and more sophisticated equipment, thus inhibiting the development of the productivity of such equipment." The principle guiding the limitation of working time is therefore that of rationalisation, economy with the cost of labour power, whilst increasing capital's productivity and thus the intensity of work.


1. "On the other hand the length of the working day also has its extreme limits although they are very extendable. These extreme limits are provided by the strength of the worker. If the daily exhaustion of his vital strength goes beyond a certain degree, he will not be able to undertake a new activity. Nevertheless, as we said, this limit is extendable. A rapid succession of weak and shortlived generations will supply the work market just as well as a series of strong and longliving generations." (Marx: "Wages, prices and profits")

2. "Work kills and/or wounds 160 000 people everday throughout the world, but it creates even more mental illnesses. 1,2 million people today suffer from serious mental disturbances." (B.I.T., Report for the International Year of the Handicapped)
In this text we have shown that capital always tries to recuperate working class struggles, workers' demands always expressing proletarians' permanent interest to work less. The formal reduction in working time (the government's 35 hour week) corresponds to an important increase in the rate of exploitation and in the rate of surplus value extracted from the proletarians. In fact, the reduction in working time, from the capitalist point of view (which includes all demands/promises made by governments, unions, leftists...) always corresponds to a decrease in necessary work so as to increase the proportion of surplus work, even if this is occurs in a day of 7 instead of 8 hours. From this point of view, if the working day is reduced in length, there must be an increase in its intensity, an increase in exploitation.

The proletarian point of view is obviously completely opposed to this increase in exploitation. Workers' struggle always tries to limit exploitation as much as possible, in its intensity as well as its duration. It is always the proletarians' interest to work less, i.e. to create less surplus value and obtain wage rises. True workers' struggle, real proletarian demands, correspond to this historical perspective alone and therefore turn their backs on bourgeois demands, on pseudo-strikes for the "government's 35 hours week", on the "maintenance of buying power"... all of which amount to nothing else but the restructuration of capital (camouflaging unemployment with part-time work, for example) and increased exploitation (campaign against "dead time", increased work pace, wage cuts). As long as there has been proletariat and bourgeoisie, workers' struggle has expressed, even at the most basic level, the tendency to reduce working time and to increase wages, be it by sabotage, by theft or by striking, imposing, albeit on a temporary basis, decreased working time and/or higher wages. It goes without saying that in certain struggles, the demand for a 40 hour week really corresponds to the workers' struggle, whereas in others this same concretisation actually signifies the liquidation of the struggle. However, what is crucial is that the character of these demands is directly antagonistic to capital's logic, to the production of surplus value.

Capital aims to strip any concretisation of proletarian interests of its class content, by legalising it and turning it into a "workers' victory", implementing its capitalist content -increasing exploitation. The class difference between, for example, the 1st of May as an international day of struggle and its legalisation/transformation into a holiday for the glorification of alienated labour is the same as that between the reduction in working time seen from the perspective of the abolition of wage labour, of all work and its legalisation/transformation into capitalist restructuration. In the conflict between the reduction in working time corresponding to the interests of the proletariat and the same formula corresponding to the interests of capital, lies the whole antagonism separating the revolutionary proletariat from the bourgeoisie.

"Capital is contradiction in actuality: it tries to reduce working time to a minimum, whilst making it the sole source and measure of wealth. It reduces it in its necessary form in order to increase it in its unnecessary form, making the time of surplus labour the condition - a question of life or death - of necessary labour time."

"But all methods for the production of surplus-value are at the same time methods of accumulation, and every extension of accumulation becomes, conversely, a means for the development of those methods. It follows therefore that in proportion as capital accumulates the situation of the worker, be his payement high or low, must grow worse.

Finally, the law which always holds the relative surplus population or industrial reserve army in equilibrium with the extent and energy of accumulation rivets the worker to capital more firmly than the wedges of Hephaestus held Prometheus to the rock. It makes an accumulation of misery a necessary condition, corresponding to the accumulation of wealth. Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, the torment of labour, slavery, ignorance, brutalization and moral degradation at the opposite pole, i.e. on the side of the class that produces its own product as capital."

(Marx, "Capital")

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Dec 15 2005 19:19


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