The call for a shorter workweek with no cut in pay arises periodically in the working class, their trade unions and among labor and progressive economists. What generally gives rise to those calls is sharp increases in joblessness underscored by long-term sustained unemployment for millions of workers.
There is no need to gild the lily, or stretch a point, or deal in allegory or suppositions. All that needs to be done is take one look at the unemployment statistics issued by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those figures show 8.3 million unemployed and growing, plus an equal number who have been pushed out of the labor market because of lack of economic growth and jobs, and those who never were let into the labor market for the same reasons, etc. This does not include the millions who are forced to work as part-time workers but who are seeking full-time work. The problem is the U.S. capitalist system cannot create enough jobs for the whole labor force. At this moment they are 16 or 17 million jobs short.
Unemployment will continue to grow, thus the need and demand for a six-hour day with no cut in pay will also grow as a natural corollary.
Why will unemployment grow? For the following reasons:
* Insufficient capital investment requiring masses of workers.
* “Too much” production capacity.
* The effects of NAFTA/FTAA and other trade agreements, which not only permit but also encourage closing down U.S. production facilities and building in super-exploited, low wage areas of the world under U.S. economic and military control.
* Deregulation and privatization which is causing tremendous layoffs.
* Destructive impact of military budget on economic growth and activity.
* Government job shrinking at all levels due to budget problems.
* Export of capital
Most important is the deepening and permanent nature of today’s economic crisis and its inability to regain meaningful upward momentum in the boom/bust cycle.
The main factor, the question of surplus value necessitates a shorter workday with no cut in pay. Surplus value is more popularly expressed as unpaid labor.
In the 1970s the U.S. working class in large numbers was dumped on the industrial scrap heap because of capitalist greed, i.e. rust bowl economics. Today’s workers are dumped because of high tech economics. Technology is replacing workers who will never go back to their jobs. U.S. worker productivity is the highest in any of the industrialized countries.
Marxist and other progressive economists know that a worker produces her/his day’s pay in less than two hours of work. All production during the rest of the workday is kept by the boss. That’s his “profit.” There is no gain for the worker by working the longer workday. She/he gets little or no benefit for the extra production. These economists have the task of waging an education campaign in the working class and people’s movement so that surplus value is fully understood and becomes the ideological foundation on which the six-hour day struggle is waged.
Historically, the U.S. working class has understood this and has fought mighty battles for shorter workdays. The Haymarket martyrs’ names and pictures should adorn every Union Hall. They made the supreme sacrifice to win the eight-hour day.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org