UAW’s Fain identifies where the lazy workers are: on Wall Street!
Photos: AP / Illustration: People's World

WASHINGTON—Shawn Fain, the Auto Workers’ outspoken president, has identified a class of lazy workers. They’re on Wall Street.

Fain brought that contrast to Congress while discussing the hard-working class he represents, where many Auto Workers at Detroit’s three automakers—Ford, GM, and Stellantis, formerly FiatChrysler–toil for 60, 70, or 80 hours a week. And they’re not the only ones.

Indeed, one unionized teacher watching the Senate Labor Committee’s hearings on legislating a 32-week before overtime pay kicks in tweeted that her week was closer to 75 hours, including lesson plans and grading papers at home. Fain was one of five witnesses before the panel.

A common right-wing shibboleth, especially when talking about “welfare”—a dog whistle—is that unemployment benefits and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families are both so generous they allow a class of “lazy” people to relax and feed off the public trough.

It’s not a new stereotype. Remember Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queens?”

Fain turned it around. He laced into the lax corporate class while going to bat for workers to get the 32-hour workweek for 40 hours’ pay—before overtime—as Labor Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., proposes.

Republicans screamed about the idea, now in a Sanders bill. The senator’s preference is for workers to have four eight-hour days on the job, and be paid for five.

The only “reverse” Fain didn’t discuss was corporate welfare at the federal trough, by low taxes, huge deductions for high pay and other “expenses,” and forcing low-paid workers onto U.S. subsidies.

Fain, the first-ever popularly elected UAW president, heeded his members’ priorities during the union’s recent successful rolling Stand Up strikes against Detroit’s automakers—Ford, GM, and Stellantis, formerly FiatChrysler.

The 32-hour week was one demand. It was one of the few issues UAW lost. Auto Workers at those plants routinely work far more than standard workweeks. Many don’t get weekends off.

Fain turned his Senate statement into a class contrast. Yes, he said, there are people who are freeloaders, who work fewer than 32 hours a week and get paid—a lot. They’re Wall Street barons.

“I agree there is an epidemic in this country of people who don’t want to work,” Fain declared. They‘re “people who can’t be bothered to get up every day and contribute to our society, but instead want to freeload off the labor of others.

“But those aren’t the blue-collar people. Those aren’t the working-class people. It’s a group of people who are never talked about for how little they actually work, and how little they actually contribute to humanity.

“The people I’m talking about are the Wall Street freeloaders, the masters of passive income.

All the time in the world

“Those who profit off of the labor of others have all the time in the world. While those who make this country run, who build the products and contribute the labor, have less and less time for themselves, for their families, and for their lives.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders has introduced legislation in support of the four-day workweek with no cut in pay. | Jacquelyn Martin / AP

Fain promised the union would keep fighting for a shorter workweek for rank-and-file workers with no loss of pay. Sanders’s legislation doesn’t ban working more than 32 hours a week, just as the Fair Labor Standards Act doesn’t ban workers from toiling more than 40 hours weekly.

That national overtime pay law mandates that if a boss forces a rank-and-file worker to toil beyond the standard week, the worker gets time-and-a-half pay for every hour beyond that. Sanders wants time and a half to start after 32 hours, and double pay to begin after 12 hours a day on the job.

“Time, like every precious resource in our society, is not given freely to the working class,” Fain began. “Since the Industrial Revolution, we have seen the productivity of our society skyrocket.

“More profit can be squeezed out of every hour, every minute, every second. There was a time when this phenomenon was supposed to lead to workers getting their time back. I go back into our archives and read of the fight for the 30-hour week, an idea that was alive and well for many decades.

“But deep into the 21st century, we find these ideas unimaginable. Instead, we find workers working longer hours. We find workers working deep into their 60s, 70s, even 80s. We find the associated deaths of despair from addiction and suicide, of people who don’t feel a life of endless, hopeless work is a life worth living.” Which is why the union “raised the flag for a 32-hour workweek.”

Sanders advanced a different reason for the shorter workweek: Artificial intelligence technology. He said it would make workers even more productive than they are now, meaning bosses would have even more dollars to pay them with. Sanders stated that 50% of workers toil for at least 50 hours weekly, including at least 18% for 60 hours, though he did not give a source for those figures.

“Moving to the 32-hour workweek is not a radical idea,” Sanders declared.

“Financial gains from major advancements in artificial intelligence, automation, and new technology must benefit the working class, not just corporate CEOs and wealthy stockholders on Wall Street,” the senator said. “It is time to reduce the stress level in our country and allow Americans to enjoy a better quality of life. It is time for a 32-hour workweek with no loss in pay.”

Fain agreed. “We know with technology, we can do more with less. It is the mantra we hear from management every day, and yet it never benefits the worker. So, who is going to act to fix this epidemic of lives dominated by work? Will the employers act? Will Congress act? How can working class people take back their lives, and take back their time?”

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., the panel’s top Republican, vehemently opposed the shorter workweek. That’s in keeping with corporate class practices, priorities, and history. “We have had hearings about the workforce shortages our nation is struggling with,” he complained. “So why are we having a hearing to consider making that problem worse?

“Mandating a 32-hour workweek while requiring businesses to increase pay at least an extra 25% per hour of labor will destroy employers…The Biden administration has been dumping gasoline on his inflation fire. This would be napalm.”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.