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Text coloring decodes as follows:
Black: Ken Ellis
Red: Marx, Engels, Lenin, etc.
Green: Press report, etc.
Blue: Recent correspondent
Purple: Unreliable Info
Brown: Inaccurate quote
Happy May Day, miscreants. Hope you all pass out from sunstroke on your day off. But, don't die on us, because we still need to make money off your working class hides. Until we replace you all with robots, you are still the source of all social values.
We are the rulers, you are the slaves. That's the way it will always be. For the master class, the future is bright, for we will always have the best advantages, no matter how the world may be spoiled by the slaves, though often at our direction. Fortunately, you slaves can always be bribed to commit the grossest atrocities against your fellow slaves, or against those whom we would seek to enslave. With our tremendous resources, there is a limitless number who will be willing to betray the interests of their closest associates, and even their loves ones, for an ever shrinking price.
Workers should take every opportunity to support their governments with their tax dollars, and stop complaining so much about it. We need the protection from the rabble that the dollars of the rabble so generously provide us.
The working class must always remember that they owe everything to the capitalist class, and therefore must freely express its gratitude in the form of freeing the capitalists from its tax burden and taking it on itself, since there are so many more workers than capitalists to help spread the burden.
Most of us use commodities and services in our daily lives. Human labor is one of the more expensive components of services and commodities, for it can only work a certain number of hours a day before it gets tired and needs to replenish itself. Machines, on the other hand, can work 24 hours a day, go without lunch, don't require expensive vacation and benefit packages, don't have dependents or take leave for family emergencies, etc. The drive to replace human labor with machinery to establish advantages over the competition is part and parcel of capitalism in the industrialized world, where more labor is available than what employers can make use of, and unemployment figures are on the rise. And, when workers compete for a dwindling supply of jobs, they are more likely to accept lower-paying jobs, which drives the average wage downwards.
To make employment prospects worse for the future, a technical journal recently declared that further developments in technology will make physical labor superfluous about a century from now. If roughly half of all labor is physical labor at this time, wiping out all of those jobs in the future cannot but have a severe impact on the lower classes. Unemployment levels in the next century could make those of today look like the good old days of not too long ago, when a strong back was sufficient for many people to make a living. In the meantime, any hopes of returning to the low unemployment figures that were experienced during World War Two seem to be gone forever, and we have been told that a certain amount of unemployment will be a permanent feature of our economies.
Some options for doing something about the bleak employment forecast for the future could include:
Option 1): Do nothing. Since this is the easiest for us to do, it's entirely possible that this is all that we will do. In that case, prevailing trends will worsen, and we could expect more unemployment, more crime, more jails, more homelessness, higher taxes to make up for the reduced tax base, reductions in social services, the gap between rich and poor to grow wider, etc. If that looks harsh but manageable, imagine an escalated scenario of 50% unemployment, all social services and Social Security eliminated by the Republicans, plagues and famine ravaging the lower classes, and entrepreneurs living with their lawyers, doctors, accountants and servants in splendor behind high walls. This is an even less pleasant scenario, especially if the lower classes and the progressively-minded community would like the wonderful new technologies to be used to shrink the gap between the experiences of the most advantaged and those of the least advantaged. Doing nothing will also signify a major contradiction between our abilities to solve extremely complex technical problems, while remaining unable to intelligently solve social problems.
Option 2): Create jobs. The government would take a greater role in seeing to it that we are kept busy doing things. Public works, clean-up crews, maybe a resurrection of the old New Deal programs of the '30's, training programs, cooperative programs with private enterprise, etc. At least this might get some of the people off the street, but someone would have to pay for it, and raising taxes on those who are already paying taxes may be the only way to finance this program. The lower classes might hope for the rich to pay for this one, but, in this world, it's every class for itself, and the devil take the hindmost. Without the political will to force the rich to pay their share, the brunt of the increased tax burden would probably be borne by the good old middle-class cash cow.
Option 3): Reduce the length of the working day: With a little thought and cooperation, the lower classes could make the system work for them instead of against. The lower classes could come to an understanding of where society has been and where it is going, that one of the purposes of technology is to put people out of work, and it is doing a remarkably good job at it. Not as good today as it will in the future, but enough to cause many of us to want to start doing something real about it. In order to provide a job and a living wage for everyone, we need to create demand for labor, and the only way we can do that is to hold back our labor in a uniform fashion, i.e., by observing a new set of rules as to when and how to apply it.
The only intelligent solution to the problems of low wages and unemployment is to reduce the length of the working day to match the replacement of labor by technology. If today we have the 8-hour day, then tomorrow we need the 6-hour day to put a lot more people back to work. Under this reform, employers would have to train many new workers. By scientifically reducing the length of the working day to increase demand for labor, wages could be forced up enough to ensure a living wage for everyone. An increased workforce would increase demand for products and services, thus putting more workers and machinery to work, rejuvenating the economy.
The struggle for a reduced working day has a long history. Before workers started to resist the outrageous demands for their services made during the Industrial Revolution, twelve-hour days and longer were not unusual. The Ten-Hour Bill was good progress for 1847, and the Eight-Hour Bill that was passed around the turn of the century in all of the advanced capitalist countries was progress again, but now it's past time for more progress, unless society was to decide that Option One or Two was more appealing, due to nausea over the reduction in profits that are entailed in reducing the length of the working day. Class perspective will by and large determine whether this reform will appeal to this or that individual, for, as wages go up, profits go down, and vice-versa.
Some might say that capital would flee abroad to escape an imposition on profits, and, if the lower classes allowed their movement for a reduced working day to remain purely national, then capital would flee abroad, exactly as predicted. But the six-hour movement would have to be part of the working class program in all of the industrialized world, just as the 8-hour movement was made a goal of the Second International Working People's Association a century and more ago. If enough of the people of the industrialized world would once again unite behind and win a reduced working day, capital would have little choice but to take its defeat as gracefully as possible.
A collateral reform to a six-hour day/30-hour week would have to be higher rates for every hour worked beyond 30 hours. Otherwise, employers could ignore the mandate for shorter hours and just pay people time and a half for everything over 30 hours; and they might continue to work the crazy amounts of overtime they work today. To counteract this possibility, the next 10 hour increment should be paid at double time, the subsequent ten at triple time, the next 10 at quadruple time, etc., which would make it less likely that businesses or agencies would employ workers beyond 40 or 50 hours a week. With these escalated overtime rates, a 40 hour week would cost employers 50 hours of pay, a 50 hour week would cost 80 hours of pay, 60 hours would cost 120 hours of pay, etc., whereas 60 hours labor with time-and-a-half over forty hours now only costs the employer 70 hours pay, compared to 120 under the escalated rates of the reform.
The longer the lower classes take to implement this reform, the poorer they will become, and the richer the rich will become. The big money of the capitalist class will be increasingly used to sway politicians to pass laws to give the rich even more power and security. They will clamor for repressive legislation and police protection, in no small part due to the increased numbers of people who will have too few ways to make a legitimate living. An increasingly insecure working class will vote for laws that will scapegoat immigrants, and for laws that will make it a crime for them to work for a piece of the American dream. If the rich have both the Democratic and Republican parties working for their interests, then it may be past time that the classes that are being put out of work by technology had a movement of their own to fight for the reduction of the length of the working day in order to distribute among many more of them what little human labor is required to meet society's needs.
But, a Six-Hour day would only effect a temporary decrease in the contrast between rich and poor, for new advances in technology would soon cause the productivity of labor to increase again to such a great extent that the gap between rich and poor could someday very well approach the same or greater levels than those of today. A recent article declares that, starting within twenty years, the integration of nanotechnology into productive processes will enable commodities to be made 100 times cheaper, and with ten times the quality, which can only mean a further drastic reduction in the amount of human labor required to take care of our needs. Competition between capitalists will always keep them wanting to go on reaping the relative advantages that comes from replacing labor with new and better machinery, thus creating conditions in the not-too-distant future for yet another battle for an even shorter working day. As the lower classes catch on to the repetition of cycles of struggle, victory and increasing hardship, and the length of the working day approaches zero, class distinctions will also disappear. Eventually, no one would find it necessary to go out and earn a living, but we would all be helping each other in different ways. Speed that day. Our mutual cooperation to shorten the length of the working day would be our first great step in that direction.
Whatever society decides to do, the problem of increased unemployment as a natural by-product of our economic system can only help us think about a greater purpose for our existence - whether we were put on earth to merely help the rich get richer while making ourselves poorer, or whether we can detect this trend and finally do something real about low wages and unemployment.
For nearly a century, the American political landscape has tolerated a small anarchist party that espouses the abolition of the most civilized aspects of government. Under their plan, Congress and other political entities would be replaced with non-political workers' unions to administer production, all of which would theoretically inaugurate a classless, stateless, anarchist paradise.
In the meantime, the Republican Party has proposed a Contract with America to address the challenges of joblessness, crime and other social problems. Some Republican Contract measures are similar to the old anarchist agenda in that they would also diminish or eliminate certain civilized aspects of government, such as Congressional committees and social programs for the disadvantaged. While the anarchist party program said little about the elements of force in government, the Republican plan would build them up. Well might the Republicans plan ahead, for the elimination of social services will certainly help widen the gap between rich and poor, and encourage speculation over class warfare.
But, if the lower classes organized to stop competing so hard for so few jobs, and instead organized to partially withhold their services, they could eliminate both joblessness and the intensified exploitation of those who do work. By reducing the working week to thirty hours, agreeing to work overtime only for double time or more, what little work that hasn't yet been taken over by machines could be redistributed more evenly to the working class, at least until the work week needed to be shortened again in the future.
Dear Socialist Organizer,
Thank you for the invitation to subscribe to the Organizer, but now that the last couple of issues have shown the orientation of the publication to be the pursuit of socialism, my interests in subscribing have been considerably dampened.
I have recently spent nearly three years writing about my experiences with the 'left' in the seventies, and decided to research the roots of the ideology of the branch of the movement that so disappointed me. In the process of refuting the anarchist ideology I encountered, I never expected to find my socialist sentiments diminished, but they were only weakened by the contradictions I uncovered within Marxism, and again by the contradictions I uncovered between Leninism and Marxism.
After smashing a monarchy, there is no theoretical problem with workers concentrating the means of production into the hands of the workers' state, but, in a democracy, the continued domination of the elements of force by the upper classes would prevent the implementation of such a socialist program after the victory of the workers' party at the ballot box, this contradiction casting great doubt upon the usefulness of state ownership and control in the first place. A billion people have recently disposed of socialism as a means of improving their lives, thereby discrediting it better than what any right-wing ideologue ever could do on paper. To me it is not very dialectical that, just because the middle classes overthrew feudal monarchies, the lower classes must therefore overthrow democracy, even bourgeois democracy, as some Leninists desire.
In a democracy, some means of making progress other than concentrating the means of production into the hands of the state must be found, and it may also have to be different from the workers' pure reliance on governmental programs such as welfare, extensions of unemployment benefits, free health care, affirmative action, etc. But a major theoretical problem is what to work for instead of socialism or anarchism, and all of the theories, and the bases thereof, should be openly discussed by socialists, unless socialist theory is considered to have been perfectly cast in stone for us to admire and implement. Any progressive can look back in the sacred texts to discover that workers' parties, such as what labor is trying to build, are supposed to express the interests of the working classes. It may require thought to figure out what those interests are, but if we think about it long enough, suitable lists of interests can be drawn up, such as:
Shorter working hours
Workers' control over the labor market
Elimination of unemployment by reducing the length of the work-week to redistribute jobs among all who can use them
An agency to gather and publish statistics so that we might know when to further reduce the length of the work week to match the continued replacement of human labor by technology
Minimum of double-time for overtime to encourage employment of more workers
Workers' insurance cooperatives for health and dental care, higher education, property protection and liability
A truly progressive income tax, an end to tax loopholes, and an end to subsidies for business interests
National referendum and initiative Amendments
Private ownership of the means of production and all sources of wealth
Continued replacement of costly human labor by machinery
Increased competition for scarce jobs to drive wages down
Continuation of the eight-hour day, and even longer, for the few who can still find work
Low wages to ensure high profits
Lower taxes for business, higher taxes for workers
Tax subsidies and protections for business
Elimination of government-funded social programs
Strong police forces to protect business and property interests
Media biased in favor of business and police
Politicians willing to pass legislation favorable to business interests, for a minimum of compensation
Disorganized working classes
Encouragement of bureaucracy, censorship, secrecy, sectarianism in workers' organizations
Union leaders interested only in delivering cheap labor to business
Unions that stay out of politics, except to vote for mainstream politicians
This is by no means a final list of class interests, but if a regular column in which the interests of the lower classes, theories of socialism, anarchism, and a dialogue with the readers about relevant issues could be published, then I would gladly subscribe and contribute to it. If the issues that I have raised cannot be discussed before the public, then I will take it as a sign that history has not yet come around to smash sectarianism, as it once did a long time ago, when the First International was organized.
March 4, 1995
Dear AVA Editor,
If the platform plans for the proposed egalitarian party are open to amendment, I would like to suggest: 'an immediate reduction in the length of the work-week', and 'reducing the length of the work-week to match the replacement of labor by technology'. If most human labor gets replaced by technology and computers in the next century, as predicted by Jeremy Rifkin and others, it would be horrible to live in a world in which only a few people had 40-hour jobs, while many more lost all means of making a living, became homeless, turned to crime, got starved, jailed, etc., even more than today's levels.
Because so many jobs have already been replaced by automation, there is more of a glut of labor on the market than usual. Today's low level of wages can be explained by the decreasing demand for labor. In order to raise wages without legislating them up artificially and temporarily, labor should cut down on its supply and partially withhold its services by winning a reduction in the hours of labor. A reduced supply would then cause the price of labor to rise.
I would rather live in a world in which everyone shared the benefits of technology, even if it meant that the gap between rich and poor were not allowed to be as great as is it today. Continual reductions in the work-week would enable us to eventually become equally rich and secure without adopting socialistic or anarchistic measures, until a more complete replacement of labor by machinery eliminated the necessity for humans to work for a living.
It will take a big party capable of winning elections to make the equality dream a reality, and the party won't get big by lying or by breaking its promises.
March 29, 1995
It seems that the controversy over affirmative action has yet to be covered from a labor-market perspective. Given the rather inflexible number of jobs, and the inability of politicians to create them out of thin air, affirmative action can only take away jobs from one portion of society, and give them to another, but does nothing whatsoever about providing jobs to the many people who could use them. Certainly, affirmative action addresses the problem of the tendency for whites to merely hire within their color group, and it evens out the unemployment and admissions statistics more evenly among the races, but all such a measure can ever hope to do is spread the misery among the races as a mere band-aid over the gaping wound of joblessness and disenfranchisement for millions.
A recent article claimed that 30 million people in the USA go hungry at least part of the time, which can only mean that a good portion of them must either be unemployed or underemployed. This is in a country in which food and other commodities have never been so easily produced. It was recently predicted that people in the next century will witness and suffer from the end of the mass labor market, but little is being done about the problem of millions of people of whatever origin or persuasion being replaced by machines that can work 24 hours a day, do not eat anything more than electricity and raw materials, have no dependents to send off to college, can be programmed with everything they will ever need to know to do their jobs, will never need to take a vacation, have a root canal, get married, have children, etc.
The glut of human labor on the market will soon grow much larger in proportion to the decreasing number of jobs that once upon a time kept human labor occupied with legal life-sustaining work. Aside from not addressing this problem, few people seem capable of offering anything better than band-aid solutions, such as minimum wage laws, more welfare, affirmative action, etc.
If labor was more alert to its real future, then, instead of working to make itself attractive to the market, it would instead figure out ways to withdraw its services in an organized fashion, and in that way create demand for labor and drive its price up. Equitable ways to withhold its services include reducing the length of the work-week, and making overtime labor more expensive to employers than simple time-and-a-half.
If society at this time requires x amount of human labor to function, then going to a six-hour day would mean that only 3/4 of the work would get done with only the same number of laborers, so 4/3 the number of laborers would have to brought into the market in order to get the same x amount of work done. That would go a long way to getting many, if not all, of the unemployed back to work, and if we sufficiently reduced the length of the work-week, and if we had a program to reduce the length of the work-week to match its replacement by machinery and technology, then we could consign divisive measures like affirmative action, welfare for the able, and minimum wage laws to the museum of band-aids where they belong. The program would also reduce the surpluses with which moneybags bribe politicians, pay executives exorbitant salaries, get involved in financial scandals, create mega-monopolies, etc.
In another vain attempt to win the battle for hearts and minds, Democrats are rolling out "A Living Wage, Jobs for All Act" numbered H.R. 1050, that supposedly addresses the growing socio-economic problems of labor and the lower classes. H.R. 1050 contains a bevy of non-productive measures guaranteed to warm the hearts of lawyers and bureaucrats. Most provisions are guaranteed to please sentimentalists, while only one would do anything real, viz., reducing the work week, but the bill includes nothing about what should be done before we resort to that, such as: mandating a minimum of a month's paid vacation for each full-time worker; mandating 10 or a dozen paid holidays per year, or comp time; earlier retirement, such as at 62 or 60; bringing all workers under the purview of the Fair Labor Standards Act; and raising the overtime premium to a minimum of double time. All of these combined would cause labor to become scarce and expensive, would eliminate unemployment, and bring a degree of social and economic justice that hasn't been seen anywhere for a long time. It would also put into the hands of the lower classes the kind of economic clout required to dismantle the glut of bad law on the books. Instead, H.R. 1050 puts in the forefront measures that would be totally superfluous if labor would just organize to withhold its services from the labor market, which is one more reason why we need a labor party.
Lots of heat has been generated in the affirmative action debate, but some light may be shed if the measure is analyzed from a perspective of working class neutrality.
Many can probably agree that affirmative action is the policy of ensuring that job and opportunity recipients reflect the race and gender compositions of their communities, or of the larger society. The program corrects imbalances created when a mostly white and male power structure awards contracts, selects students, and hires workers from within their favorite racial and gender groups. As well as it works for those who manage to get jobs and opportunities under its auspices, institutional adherence to the rules helps compliant employers and educational institutions fend off charges of racial and gender bias. Lawyers are also kept busy with related legal issues.
In spite of all it has done to even out statistics, many people can perceive that awarding preferential treatment to some portions of society while letting the others go hang does not deliver broad social justice. Even some advocates of affirmative action acknowledge that it does nothing to provide jobs and opportunities to all who could use them, and that it was never intended to benefit the working class as a whole in the first place. This shortcoming has enabled movements to abolish it to flourish with little opposition, similar to how most of the world recently allowed socialism to be driven to near extinction. If, as some progressives charge, movements against affirmative action reflect bigotry, misogyny or racism, that is where those movements get ugly, but people who perceive the shortcomings of the measure should not be tarred for a mere reluctance to support it. Though workers can be neutral to many non-working class issues, especially if they have not been personally affected by them, affirmative action militants do not seem to recognize class neutrality with respect to their issue, everyone having to be militantly for it due to their alleged high-mindedness, or militantly or secretly against it due to their alleged low-mindedness. Some zealots award ostracism and condemnation to those who question the win-lose policy; they promote it without reservation, and express indignation over the reluctance of white males to sacrifice what few jobs and opportunities they have so that women and people of color can acquire them. Militants in some special environments have even been known to harass males and whites in order to pressure them out of their jobs, hoping to replace them with women and people of color. What interest can this type of militant have in broad social justice? But, if the working class had a party with which to express its own class interests, it would probably advocate social justice measures far more effective than mere band-aids.
Not enough jobs exist to distribute to every person who could use one, but instead of their ever-increasing productivity allowing workers more leisure time, they reportedly now work more than a week longer per year than they did in the Sixties, bucking a century-long trend for labor-time to shorten a few percent each decade. Witness the many who have more than one job, or work more than forty hours per week, much of the overtime coerced. Economic insecurity pressures desperate workers to accept nearly any job that comes along, and unemployment is maintained at 5 or 6% to ensure plenty of competition in the labor market, lowering wages for competing workers, maximizing profits for bosses, and encouraging the conversion of common prejudice into rampant discrimination and xenophobia.
Before unemployment shrinks to zero, it may only get worse. More sources than ever predict that people will witness the end of the mass labor market in the next century, but not enough is being said or done about the replacement of millions of people of diverse ethnicity, religion, gender and persuasion by machines that can work 24 hours a day, do not consume much more than electricity and raw materials, have no dependents to send off to college, can be programmed with everything they need in order to do their jobs, will never take a vacation, need a root canal, get married, have children, etc.
Per capita, we are forty times more productive now than workers were two centuries ago. Twenty thousand steel workers produce today what six times as many produced sixteen years ago. The introduction of nanotechnology in the next century will make commodities an estimated hundred times cheaper with ten times the quality. Many future technologies have yet to be discovered or imagined, many of which are bound to replace even more human labor. If people a century ago could not have imagined space travel, jetliners, nuclear weapons, personal computers, and gene splicing, it is just as difficult for us today to imagine how technology will affect our descendants' lives a century from now, if we haven't driven ourselves to extinction by then. Given the snail's pace rate at which we adjust our thinking, future technological advances could turn out to be less beneficial than what some people expect of them.
If labor was more conscious of its gradual but persistent replacement by technology, then, instead of endlessly primping to make itself more attractive to the labor market, it would instead organize to withhold its services commensurate with the decreasing demand for them. According to the century-old union slogan, "Whether you work by the piece or work by the day, decreasing the hours increases the pay." Some ancestors understood that long hours, low wages, and competition for scarce jobs form a vicious circle, but that shorter hours makes labor scarce, spreads what little work that remains for humans to do among more of them, and causes wages to rise. Job creation as legislated policy, on the other hand, remains as much a rainbow for do-gooders to chase as are so many other purely political programs, for there is only so much work that bosses are willing to pay for. Unless the entire working class can find ways to share what little work that has not yet been taken over by machines, technology and downsizing, neither good jobs nor broad social justice will materialize. In order to share what little work that remains for humans to do, labor must find universal and equitable ways by which it can make itself scarce, such as by: making overtime more expensive than simple time and a half in order to discourage overwork; mandating a minimum of a month of annual vacation time for full-timers, mandating 10 or a dozen paid holidays per year, or comp time; lowering the age of retirement with full benefits; reducing the length of the work week, etc.
Rather than reduce hours of labor to make room in the economy for all to participate, the trend nowadays is to keep people working longer, because, what with the already low rates of wages, paying time and a half for overtime is often cheaper than hiring extra staff, while at other times, what with the high cost of mandatory benefits for full-timers, replacing them with part-timers sometimes saves money. Given the negative repercussions on family life, forty hours of work per week is more than enough for most people, so situations that justify more hours per week, or even more than 8 hours per day, should justify overtime premium rates higher than just time and a half. A 20 year old study has shown that amending the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to boost the overtime premium to double time would reduce unemployment by 1-2%. Bringing all workers, including salaried workers, under the purview of the Act and enforcing it carefully would probably further reduce unemployment another percent or more. If insufficient to create full employment, we should raise the overtime premium of the second ten hours to triple time, and anything over that to quadruple time. A sixty hour week with these overtime premiums would cost bosses 90 hours of pay, whereas at time and a half it costs only 70. Putting up a financial brick wall against overwork would be more efficient than a dozen laws prohibiting it, and the sooner we eliminate overwork, the sooner we can eliminate unemployment.
Making overtime prohibitively expensive should precede a measure for a shorter work week. Back in the era of 12 and 10 hour days, the question of an overtime premium was fairly moot, work days already so long that getting any more work out of anyone wasn't easy. Nowadays, if the historical trend toward a shorter work day is to pick up where it left off, overtime premiums will have to get steeper, or else, with a mere time and a half disincentive, bosses will find it easy to ignore the nominal limit and keep people working many hours beyond. If a two hour day were to be mandated sometime in the next century or beyond, double time might have to kick in for the first hour of overtime, triple for the second hour, quadruple for the third, and so on. In general, the shorter the work day, the higher the overtime premiums will have to be, and the sooner we take the first step in that direction, the sooner the overwork can be eliminated.
If higher overtime rates, longer vacations, more paid holidays, early retirement, etc., still fail to put everyone to work, we should reduce the length of the work week. If society in the eight-hour era requires X amount of human labor to function, then, using idealized figures, only 7/8 of the work would be done in a seven-hour day, so it would take 8/7 more workers to do the same X amount of work, thus further reducing unemployment. Work week reductions combined with increased overtime rates will prove indispensable to eliminating unemployment, even though quite a few scoff at the idea that unemployment is a problem now, and that many more jobs will be lost in the future. They correctly point out that jobs haven't dried up yet, and unemployment has yet to reach for the sky in this country the way it has in others. When productivity increases faster than inflation, as it has during much of the past century, workers have been able to share in the benefits and have acquired homes, cars, and even a few luxuries, though Republican spin doctors constantly remind us that we live in an age of diminished expectations, and predict that the young will not be able to enjoy the lifestyles that their parents did (especially if the Republicans have their way). But, there is no compelling technological reason for the living standards of the lower classes to have to further decline in an era when so many of the problems of production have been solved. The social reason for that prediction coming true will be the continued absence of an organization that the lower classes could use to eliminate competition between themselves for scarce jobs.
We live in a new era, but, before society divided into different economic classes many centuries ago, all of the foods, clothes, shelters, rudiments and fineries that people or communities produced were at their own disposal, no ruling classes existing to leech off the efforts of others. As improvements in tools of production enabled division of labor and specialization, surpluses then accumulated, trade developed, and some people became able to afford the services of others, but the lower classes in those early days still consumed most of what they produced. Jumping to the present, tremendous advances in our abilities to produce food in this country have enabled the portion of the population that still works the land to decline to one or two percent, as compared to a century ago when 40% of the people worked the land, and two centuries ago when the figure was 80%.
If the small percentage of the population that produces all of the food eats just that same small percentage of it, then the vast bulk of what they produce has to be divorced from them somehow, some of it sold by a few of them, but most of it handed over under terms of agreement between wage labor and agri-capital. Similar amazing advances have been made in the quantities of other necessities of life that can be and are produced by proportionally fewer people than ever. As people left family farms to go to work in cities, they increasingly became involved in producing things that many of us would find hard to get along without today, but a century ago were either unimaginable or not considered necessary. People became increasingly valued for their abilities to produce non-necessities, and employment in more glamorous industries and occupations garnered prestige.
If jobs are constantly being created to replace those that are lost through restructuring, layoffs, and replacement by technology, arguments for a shorter work day could still be more than adequately supported by an examination of the amount of time required to produce necessities of life. The working day can be looked upon as containing two portions: the first, during which the working class works for itself, as represented by wages, and the rest of the day, during which the values they produce are reaped by governments and bosses. While necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, transportation and health care are most of what the working class needs in order to live, the interval required to produce them and everything else has been reduced by advances in technology and productivity. The portion of the day during which the working class works for itself has historically been decreasing, a trend that legitimized labor time reductions that have occurred so far; but, if the length of the work day remains the same, then increasing amounts of time are spent working for governments and bosses. And with the work year more than a week longer than it was in the sixties, surpluses gather even faster. Do you still wonder why corporate profits and executive salaries have soared recently, and why tax-freedom day arrives later than ever each year? It is estimated that of all new wealth recently created, only 2% goes to the lower 80% of the population, while 98% goes to the upper 20%. There is no slicker mechanism for keeping the upper classes in luxuries and power than by lower classes increasingly competing for the 'pleasure' of working beyond the time required to produce necessities. Labor time analyses illuminate this process quite elegantly, which may be the reason we hardly ever get to see them.
If overwork were eliminated, and work spread more evenly around, demand for necessities would remain approximately the same; or, if we decided to better clothe, feed and house people, time spent producing necessities might temporarily increase somewhat. If the hours of labor decreased, while time spent producing necessities remained the same or increased, then production of surpluses, non-essential commodities and services would abate. Workers would feel less ripped off, and, with no unemployment, rates of crime would decrease, the load on the courts would lighten, and people would be released from jails faster than what they fill. Many people wonder why so many innocuous activities have to be criminalized, but if one looks at the quantity of non-essential commodities and services we produce that have to be utilized somehow, then putting people in jail for little or no reason at all has a certain logic to it. Criminalize everything, and the growth of a big prison industry can be rationalized. As surpluses increase, but politics prevents their use for the good of all, human resources get set in motion against each other. So many workers have been made irrelevant and redundant by machinery and technology that tossing non-earning, non-consuming 'useless feeders' on the scrap heap or in jail has become an easy alternative to treating the lower classes with the dignity they deserve.
All of the commodities and services used to keep the working class in line are produced by the working class itself, which helps explain their schizophrenia, why there is such a lack of trust among them, and so much inhibition toward breaking silence. For all that anyone might know, the next person to whom one might be inclined to be friendly just might enjoy a niche in a repressive bureaucracy, and might recently and anonymously have done something nasty to the person who might have been inclined to be friendly. As the amount of work required to produce necessities decreases, and hours of labor and surpluses increase, chances also increase that the next person one meets will fill a niche in a bureaucracy.
Greater social efficiency could be derived from employing everyone for fewer hours per day, rather than overworking and overtaxing a diminishing segment of society, while another segment has no decent way to make a living. With any luck at all, our desire for valid solutions will lead to finding and implementing them, and inadequate reforms like minimum wage laws, affirmative action, and welfare for the able could be consigned to the museum of band-aids. People would have increasing amounts of time to work within their communities, work on political reform, do what they want, goof off, or even watch TV. All it will take will be an amendment or two to the FLSA, along with a little enforcement.
It is entirely possible for us to enact measures that will enable everyone to earn a living. Eliminating overwork and continually shortening hours of labor are indispensable ways to create and maintain economic justice for the lower classes, but few politicians seem willing to do anything real to redistribute work and income more equitably, especially when their assistance in funneling income and power to the upper classes is rewarded so much more handsomely. But, if those who know as much about left-wing swindles as they do about right-wing swindles just stand by and say nothing, the general debate may continue to wallow in endlessly repeated shallow platitudes.
Left-Wing Ideological Bankruptcy
Though lower class living and working conditions constantly worsen, the left doesn't do much more than play the role of victim, or complain about the right wing and capitalism. For solutions, they hardly suggest anything better than minimum wage laws, affirmative action, welfare, free health care, political reforms, revolution, dismantling militias, fighting the right, etc. If those issues are allegedly so much more important than eliminating overwork, then why aren't more people out there fighting those good fights? No lack of sentiment or compassion may exist for all of the good issues that the left fights for, but one can hardly expect either overworked people or an impoverished humanity to take their places beside middle-class activists while wondering where their next crumbs or rent checks will come from. There may actually be a race, say, between irreparable harm to the environment and gathering the requisite number of environmentally concerned citizens to avert it, and this race may continue to be lost until significant portions of the lower classes are liberated from their all-absorbing poverty, or from their all-absorbing labor that prevents them from being more actively involved in environmental and other issues. Will activists ever be sufficiently interested in the outcome of their causes to do something substantial for them?
An ideological portion of the left alienates common folk, or otherwise makes itself useless, by advocating the abolition of capitalism and the state, or by advocating a workers' state or a social-democracy, none of which programs can be implemented at the same time as the others, thus preventing unity on the left; but that doesn't prevent ideologues from worshiping ancient divisive programs. Here's why collectivism is incompatible with, and unlikely to be implemented in democracies:
Due to its greater efficiency in producing commodities and necessities of life, the capitalist mode of production gradually became dominant and spread all over the world. Initially, capitalists sought political influence commensurate with their increasing economic prosperity, but feudal bureaucracies kept them out of government and prevented them from hiring wage labor. So, at a certain level of strength, capitalists recruited allies with promises of liberty, fraternity and equality, and armed workers to assist in the task of replacing repressive feudal monarchies with democratic republics, or in winning independence from colonial domination. The tide of revolution that swept Europe in Marx's time was only a small part of the tide of bourgeois democratic revolutions that began in Holland in the 1500's, went to England in the next century, and to the USA in the century after that. As they began fulfilling their democratic mission, Marx noted that the interests of workers and capitalists had scarcely differentiated. But, as the wave of revolution traveled east for the next two centuries, i.e., through France, Germany, Russia, China, Vietnam, etc., the working class tended increasingly in each succeeding struggle to come out as a class for itself, proclaiming its own interests through its own parties and programs. The 'liberty, equality and fraternity' of the capitalists gradually gave way to slogans reflecting ambitions of workers' power.
In Europe in the last century, Marx envisioned a grand alliance of workers, peasants and socialists fighting alongside middle-class democrats in order to overthrow feudal monarchies, establish democratic republics, and then push the resulting democracies through to proletarian dictatorship by votes under the best of circumstances, or otherwise by force, after which, private property was to be collectivized into the hands of workers' states. In world history so far, Marx's program of collectivization has only been feasible after overthrowing feudal monarchies in relatively underdeveloped countries, or after winning wars of national liberation, for only then did victorious socialists possess the physical force required to change ownership of means of production. Although intended more for Germany and central Europe, Marx's revolutionary scenario didn't get beyond embryo stage until 1917 in Russia, where the short-lived Kerensky republic succumbed within a few months to the Bolsheviks. And, on the very first day of the Bolshevik revolution, private ownership of land was abolished in the Soviet Union, a revolutionary blow that arguably violated the gradual intent of Marx and Engels in their Communist Manifesto. This long-lasting revolution in a relatively backward country touched off a debate, for its course contradicted their prediction that socialist revolution would begin in the most advanced capitalist countries and spread to the least advanced.
As we have seen, socialist revolution did not spread from the most technologically advanced countries to the rest of the world; only bourgeois revolution has spread exactly that way so far, and dialectics may not allow history to repeat itself in exactly the same way. If, on the other hand, such a thing as 'proletarian production' exists in fact or theory, and if such production is more efficient than capitalist production, and if the fetters of the capitalist state have to be burst in order to establish proletarian production all over the world, much in the same way that feudalism yielded to capitalism, then, in that case, the historical pattern of more efficient systems of production replacing less efficient ones could repeat itself. But, try to imagine any mode of production that could surpass the ability of capitalism to liberate lower classes from drudgery, or to thoroughly replace human labor with machines. In terms of lower class liberation, how could a 'proletarian revolutionary' possibly desire a better system than capitalism? (Unless, perhaps, revolutionaries only want to use classes with grievances to elevate leaders to power, and, like so many other revolutionaries, will later be glad to betray lower classes by building empires on the surplus values they create.) But, while capitalism relieves workers from drudgery, the unemployment that results from insufficient levels of organization also separates many workers from accustomed means of making a living, creating a source of social instability, which, in its early stages, can be made up for by the use of government programs and force, but in its later stages can only be addressed with intelligent policy.
In the past, feudal monarchies corresponded to lesser developed economies, while democratic forms of government, corresponding to more advanced capitalism, arose in Western Europe. In 1872, Marx stated that workers in democracies could 'organize labor along new lines' after 'winning political supremacy' by peaceful democratic means, but Lenin later countered that the peaceful establishment of socialism would be prevented by the much stronger military machines of the 20th century, so he advocated forcibly overthrowing democracies that got in the way of socialism, a course that few workers who had enjoyed democratic freedoms were willing to pursue, for workers had traditionally allied themselves with capitalists to create and protect democracies. The Marxist program that follows peaceful or violent political victories of workers' parties contains within it seeds of civil war, for collectivizing means of production alienates property owners one hundred per cent. The lesson that neither Marx not Lenin learned from the American Civil War was that the South was willing to fight to the death to protect such an immoral form of private ownership as slavery, which also meant that the country as a whole would be more than willing to fight to protect the institution of private ownership in general, if such a desire ever emerged from its present confines in radical sectarian groups to become a national issue. Switching ownership of means of production from one class to another, or from one class to the government, has not happened yet in the history of elections in western democracies, for the elements of force that protect private property before elections go on protecting it afterwards, rendering socialist schemes impossible to implement after mere elections.
This difference in the feasibility of collectivizing after acquiring physical force vs. after mere electoral victories can only cause great doubt as to the value of Marx's program, for, if socialist revolution was supposed to have happened in advanced capitalist (and democratic) countries before happening elsewhere, then it should have proven to be at least as feasible after winning elections in democracies as it proved to be after overthrowing feudal monarchies, or after liberating colonies. Because collectivizing proved unfeasible after electoral victories of workers' parties, then collectivizing probably does not represent workers' best interests after all, and the collectivist scenario that Marx predicted for democracies will probably remain unfulfilled.
Workers' states have also many times, and in many ways, proven inefficient and fallible. Socialist countries have remained relatively underdeveloped and undemocratic, and, with a lack of market forces to guide it, never got around to out-producing capitalism. The abandonment of socialism by most of the previously socialist world suggests that collectivizing means of production is not what workers would do on their own in the first place, not representing enough social progress to be worthwhile. Failing to detect workers' fundamental lack of interest in socialism during the Paris Commune of 1871, Marx and Engels criticized Communards for not expropriating the capitalist classes. Similarly, when British trade unionists expressed their class interests by not fighting for anything more exciting than shorter hours and higher wages, Marx and Engels criticized them for not lusting after political domination as well.
Consider as well the value of changing ownership of means of production in socialist countries in the first place, for, after such a change, workers still had to go on working, and their representatives, or a non-elected bureaucracy, had to calculate how to distribute services and commodities, etc., a scenario that so excluded capitalists and market forces that Lenin rectified the waste of talent with new market policies after some bitter experience with a lack of goods and starvation. Nowadays, socialist hold-outs are attempting to survive by re-introducing markets and foreign investments.
The incompatibility of socialism with advanced capitalist democracies has allowed for almost anything to be made of it, and, depending upon who speaks for it, can mean anything from Social-Democratic reforms to communism, from state ownership to collective ownership, from the rule of the workers to Stalinism, from proletarian dictatorship to anarcho-syndicalism, and it shouldn't be too hard to think of other plausible definitions. Some social-democrats think that we should pursue an agenda of pure political reform: job creation, livable minimum wages, health care for all, equal rights for oppressed minorities, affirmative action, environmental protections, etc. A problem with pure political reform, however, is that it doesn't attack modern problems at their source; it addresses effects, but never the innate tendency to concentrate wealth and power at the top, and poverty and misery at the bottom, as only reducing hours of labor can address it. Republicans who are loath to give social democrats any money for programs, and who nibble away at the most innocuous functions of state, sound more and more like plutocrats and monarchists, and sometimes even like fascists.
While socialists actually replaced feudal and capitalist state machinery with socialist states in the revolutions of 1848, in the Paris Commune of 1871, and for longer periods after the Bolshevik revolution and afterwards, the anarchist scenario of smashing the state and replacing it with a classless, stateless administration of things enjoyed no realization in history. Anarchist attempts to overthrow municipal authority in Spain in the 1870's were characterized mostly by confusion and vacillation, and Makhno's rebellion after the Bolshevik revolution didn't make much of an impact, either. According to anarchism, capital has hegemony only by the grace of the state. Their theory suggests that, if the state could be eliminated, the rule of capital would be over, and classless, stateless society could be established immediately, so anarchists oppose reform as much as they oppose law in general, for reforms many times placate workers and render them less likely to revolt. In order for workers to explode in anger and smash the state, steam must build up as in a pressure cooker, the slightest provocation of which will cause revolution, so, purveyors of reform usually get ridiculed as 'counter-revolutionary'. But, middle-class anarchists can often get along without reforms more easily than can average low-wage workers.
As the result of irrelevance and inappropriateness to advanced capitalist democracies, anarchist and communist collectivization schemes hardly present a threat to democracies. If communism or anarchism were really worth anything, their proponents and parties would have been able to attract more of the class they claim to represent, and, in a democracy, would even have had some influence in government. But, movements based upon ideologies that were abandoned by a quarter of the world can have little future influence in government, no matter how bad things get. The longer that people retain belief in highly unlikely scenarios, the longer it will take them to discover effective means of struggle, and to get equitable shares of what they produce.
The inapplicability of radical scenarios of changing ownership of means of production, and of overthrowing advanced capitalist democracies, also helps explain the internal bureaucracy, censorship, secrecy, sectarianism and ideological fraud adopted and practiced by some radical groups, for inapplicable theories fit themselves more for glorification and merchandising than for open and careful discussion, for fault with them would eventually be discovered. The likelihood of ideology alienating newcomers at the outset of recruiting efforts often causes various issues to be fronted as ostensible agendas. Newcomers often take the bait, then get treated to scenes of internal disagreement and personalized infighting. Ideas take sixth place to vilifying capitalism, propaganda dissemination, fund raising, keeping rank and file obedient, and recruiting new suckers. Discussion about how society evolves is replaced by lionization of the most erudite disseminators of the party line. Businesses are what many a sect has become, and, as long as enough suckers can be found to pay salaries and rent, few party ideologues and bureaucrats are willing to give up on what has become a decent source of income. Some ideologues in the inner cores of some sects know well enough that communism and anarchism are inapplicable to democracies, but are making enough money off the marketing of their 'isms to shun discussions of their own ideological and moral bankruptcy except in intimate company. Revolutionaries may claim a higher stage of morality than the rest of us, but the use of force to rob one class for the aggrandizement of another reveals the actual barbarity and non-democratic nature of collectivism, and certainly does not reflect the 'live and let live' ideology of the lowest classes. It is hard to expect anyone to create or legislate a moral society while we practice outrages on each other and the planet. Consider the alternative of creating a positive demand for labor that would allow workers to abandon and boycott destructive occupations without fear of being permanently unemployed thereafter.
It may be a long time before heads of radical sects throw open the pages of their journals to critical analyses of their own dogmas and failures, nor will they soon advocate reforms in the interests of the working classes while state ownership or the abolition of the state seem to them and to so many of their followers like such radical and meaningful endeavors. No society benefits more from the propagation of unlikely 'isms than does high society. What it will take for the supply of ideologues to dry up will be a more equitable distribution of labor and the resultant economic recovery of the lower classes, which will also lead to their political recovery. Until then and thereafter, expect little of value from ideologues, whose demagoguery in labor and progressive sectors will end only when the whole class is elevated.
Activists often complain about the waste associated with the way the system presently runs, but sufficiently reducing hours of labor would cut down on the tremendous surpluses we create, all too many of which get converted into waste. As Ralph Nader recently noted, the economy may be growing, but almost all that grows is pure waste.
Activists concerned about the health of society and the planet ought to analyze just how hierarchic, bureaucratic or democratic their own organizations are by asking questions like:
1) Is there a single individual or self-appointing group that has ultimate responsibility for hiring and firing?
2) Is the organization run collectively, or is there an individual or small group that makes all of the decisions?
3) Are the terms of employment of each worker considered private matters?
4) Are the compensation packages of all 'executives' known to the workers, and are they the same as, or simply a fixed percentage higher than that of rank and file?
5) Is there a significant gap between the compensation of the most humble worker and that of the highest paid 'executive'?
6) Are rank and file workers represented by a union, or is union activity frowned upon?
7) Does it seem like opinions of volunteers and lowest paid workers are mostly overlooked when important decisions are being made?
8) Is there freedom of communication with everyone, inside and outside the organization?
9) Is there a sense that outsiders are merely being sold a product, or is the flow of information a two-way street?
10) Can majority rule be used to silence unpopular voices, or is there interest in freedom of expression for all workers, paid and unpaid?
Yardsticks like this may help activists determine if their organizations and movements reflect lower class interests, or whether they are just another cog in the system of human betrayal, or something in between that could be improved.
How will society evolve? The condition of the lower classes could sink to below zero with no apparent turn to socialism, communism or anarchism, while ideologues wring their hands pretending to wonder why. Fortunately, the chances of workers making the mistake of doing what ideologues want them to do are getting smaller and smaller, but the lower classes are so run down and neglected that they may not be able to initiate any reasonable action on their own to rectify the situation, especially considering the paucity of valid guidance they receive. As rare are debates over reducing hours of labor by bosses and their sycophants in the media and universities, rarely discussed as well are the relations between a crowded labor market, overwork, unemployment, long hours and low wages. As the result of the intensification of all of these, the lower classes may become more restless and rebellious, and society may be heading for the precipice of open class warfare, during which the upper classes, many of whom have always known what to do, but after trying everything else, may eventually become sufficiently desperate to establish a modicum of social peace that they initiate a reduction in the hours of labor in order to avert total anarchy or losing their political power, à la F.D.R. (Remember his proposal for a 7-hour day?) If they do, the first reduction may not be sufficient to do much good, but every little bit helps, and each succeeding reduction will yield increasing amounts of time for lower classes to educate themselves and even recognize their own class interests by establishing a political party of their own. After that, things could move faster, for the sanctity of the 8-hour day would break down, the working and upper classes alike could lose their religious attachments to it, and demands for further reductions could become more insistent, resulting in accelerated rates of social progress.
Our era is one in which many poor people are overworked or have more than one job, while many others have none. Some believe that we should mobilize first against the political oppression that is still gathering momentum, but if no one has the time, energy, or resources, then political oppression may continue to worsen for the lack of personnel to do anything real about it. If one thing seems fundamental to our ability to fight political oppression, it is our mutual economic security. We should be free from both unemployment and overwork. In order to eliminate both, the economic task of the lower classes should consist in replacing competition between workers for scarce jobs with competition between bosses for scarce labor. We can move the burden of competition from one class to the other by withholding our services from the labor market, creating the kind of positive demand for labor that will enable everyone to make a living wage and become independent players in a free market.
The situation for the lower classes constantly worsens, but little is being done to attack the problem at its root. Federal Reserve interest rates are manipulated to maintain unemployment at around 5-6 percent, and the resulting brutal competition for scarce jobs drives wages to low and unsustainable levels, makes bosses rich, and crowds jails with society's castoffs. Resources seem to exist for just a few to make obscene profits buying, selling and using. On rare occasions, when employment or wages do rise, profits and the stock market decline, and even more jobs flee offshore.
In spite of the decline of the lower classes, pundits who command respect from major media suggest eliminating even more public-sector protections for the poor, and are little inclined to debate whether what little labor that remains for humans to do should be shared by the whole working class. Converting competition between workers for scarce jobs into competition between bosses for scarce labor would raise wages and banish unemployment, but corporate profits, the stock market, and CEO salaries would also decline, an effect that the upper classes are aware of and oppose. If the economic status of workers and bosses rose and fell together, there would be little question as to what to do, but, unfortunately, their economic interests seem to be diametrically opposed.
Of approximately the same value to workers as Wall Street analysts, are elected and self-appointed left-wing leaders, paralyzed as they are by near-religious adherence to collectivist programs that are as impossible to implement in democracies now as when they were thought up, but ideologues are happy to make a living purveying impossibilities as long as suckers can be found to support them. The refusal of a billion people to fight to defend collectivism in the Soviet bloc was insufficiently analyzed by the left, devoted as so many of them are to robbing the rich of their property as the primary means of ostensibly creating social and economic justice for the poor, though ideologues would probably be just as happy with a little power for themselves. When we get sick and tired of democracy, we will be sure to call on ideologues to lead us.
The barbarity of rearranging ownership of means of production is often reflected in left-wing internal party life. Individuals who become aware of discrepancies in the logic of their own party programs, and who desire to share their concerns with the rest of their party, discover that avenues of internal communication are often closed to information that would hurt the marketability of the 'ism they were recruited to promote. They learn the hard way how bureaucratic, censorious, sectarian and internally secretive their parties can be when impossible collectivist schemes are the main products to be sold.
For a long time, ideologues have refused to acknowledge the amount of force required to collectivize, or the fact that it was far easier after overthrowing feudal monarchies in backward countries, or after winning independence from colonial domination, when socialists possessed the requisite physical force, none of which applies to stable advanced capitalist democracies like the USA, where a different method of obtaining social justice will have to be implemented, lest the entire working class end up in jail as it is relentlessly replaced by automation, and is increasingly separated from traditional means of making a living.
If 80% of the population lived on farms two centuries ago, 40% one century ago, and only 1-2% now, and if other necessities of life have seen similar decreases in the amount of labor required to produce them, and if the work-week has not shortened commensurate with the decreasing amounts of time required to produce necessities, then we must be producing commodities and services in vast abundance, as well as many new ones that would have been unimaginable not very long ago. In spite of the abundance, only two percent of new wealth gets distributed to the lower 80%, while 98% accrues to the top 20%. Whatever prevents lower classes from sharing more equitably in the wealth they help create cannot be very compelling, for, with so few people now required to produce all of the food that we eat, there can be few valid excuses for one out of six California kids going hungry.
Revolutionary scenarios for resolving inequities of distribution mutually exclude one another, preventing leftists from uniting against their ostensible common capitalist enemy. Socialists would tax the rich to create a benevolent state, communists would create a workers' state to expropriate the rich, while anarchists would replace the state with a classless and stateless administration of things. Observe how well the three plans compete with one another, and the impossibility of doing any two at the same time, never mind all three.
Compare that exercise in frustration with the many complementary means of withholding labor from the labor market so as to create a scarcity, such as by: raising the overtime premium to a minimum of double time, which would make overtime more expensive and discourage overwork; bringing all workers under the purview of the Fair Labor Standards Act, thus ensuring premium overtime rates for all workers; ensuring all full-timers a minimum month's vacation per year, a dozen paid holidays per year, earlier retirement with full benefits; and, if all of those fail to put everyone to work, then a shorter work-week. Since all of these measures pull in the same direction of reducing hours of labor for individual workers, activists fighting for a shorter work week, for instance, would be just as glad to see any of the other measures enacted.
In an era of public and private down-sizing, the likelihood of passing laws that require bureaus to administer and yet do nothing to ensure that everyone has a job will probably diminish. With a scarcity of labor, though, the resulting positive demand for it would ensure that everyone could be independent players in a free market.
The situation for the lower classes constantly worsens, but little is being done to attack the problem at its root. Brutal competition for scarce jobs drives wages to low and unsustainable levels, makes bosses rich, and crowds jails with society's castoffs. Resources seem to exist for just a few to make obscene profits buying, selling and using. When unemployment occasionally declines, profits and the stock market slump, and even more jobs flee offshore.
In spite of all this, no one seems inclined to debate whether what little labor that remains for humans to do should be shared by the whole working class. Competition between bosses for scarce labor would raise wages and banish unemployment, but corporate profits, the stock market, and CEO salaries would decline. If the economic status of workers and bosses rose and fell together, there would be little question as to what to do, but, unfortunately, their economic interests seem diametrically opposed.
Leftist leaders remain entranced by collectivist programs that are as unlikely to be implemented in democracies now as when they were thought up long ago. The barbarity of rearranging ownership of property is often reflected in leftist internal party life. Disenchanted ideologues who desire to share their concerns with the rest of their party often find that avenues of internal communication are closed to information that would hurt the marketability of the 'ism they were recruited to promote.
Ideologues hardly acknowledge the amount of force required to redistribute wealth and property, or the fact that collectivization was far easier after overthrowing feudal monarchies in backward countries, or after winning independence from colonial domination, when socialists possessed the requisite physical force, none of which applies to stable advanced capitalist democracies like the USA, where a different method of obtaining social justice will have to be found, lest the entire working class end up in jail as it is relentlessly replaced by automation, and is increasingly separated from traditional means of making a living.
We now produce commodities and services in vast abundance, so whatever prevents lower classes from sharing more equitably in the wealth they help create cannot be very compelling, for, with so few people now required to produce all of the food, there can be few valid excuses for one out of six California kids going hungry. But, revolutionary scenarios of correcting inequities in distribution mutually exclude one another, preventing left-wing unity. Socialists would create a benevolent state by taxing the rich, communists would create a workers' state to expropriate the rich, while anarchists would replace the state with a classless and stateless administration of things. Observe how well the three plans compete with one another, and the impossibility of doing any two at the same time, never mind all three.
Compare that exercise in frustration with the many complementary means of reducing competition between workers for scarce jobs, such as: raising the overtime premium to a minimum of double time; making the Fair Labor Standards Act all-inclusive; mandating a minimum month's vacation per year, a dozen paid holidays per year, earlier retirement with full benefits, and, if all of those fail to put everyone to work, a shorter work-week. Activists fighting for any one of them would be just as glad to see any of the others enacted.
In an era of public and private down-sizing, the likelihood of passing laws that require bureaus to administer and yet do nothing to ensure that everyone has a job will probably diminish. With a scarcity of labor, though, the resulting positive demand for it would ensure that everyone could be independent players in a free market.
July 4, 1996
There is a moral angle to the labor market. If competition for scarce jobs prevents workers from boycotting occupations as brutal as making land mines and clearcutting forests, competition between bosses for scarce labor would enable workers to boycott destructive occupations without fear of permanent unemployment. A positive demand for labor would free workers to blow the whistle on corporate pollution, unsafe manufacturing processes, environmental destruction, etc. As it is now, however, whenever the choice has to be made between moral values and personal survival, we always, to a person, with but few exceptions, choose our own personal immediate, short-term survival. Such is the human condition, and there's little that can be done about that, but competition between workers in a glutted labor market is an artificial situation that has only developed in earnest over the past few hundred years, and thus can be remedied. When unemployment, poverty, hunger, homelessness and crime finally drive society to the breaking point, workers will see less difference between themselves and the jobless who are more than willing to take their places, and in solidarity will eventually walk out at the end of 40 hours unless bosses pay double time, for workers will eventually 'feel the pain' of the jobless, and will be more willing to do something real to share what little work that remains for humans to do. It wouldn't be long, then, before double time became the overtime premium, and the Fair Labor Standards Act was amended accordingly.
August 19, 1996
As desirable as saving part of the Headwaters forest would be, the required amount of rebellion to accomplish that save may not be at hand. People have done little to nothing to address the competition for scarce jobs that turns workers into willing handmaidens of destruction of everything that it is profitable to destroy. Until environmentalists do something real about creating allies out of the 14 million who could use enough work to make a decent living, environmentalists may continue to suffer one defeat after another. Ultra-morality on environmental issues is negated by a glaring lack of morality, or a glaring lack of any position at all, on the issue of the right of everyone to share what little work that hasn't yet been taken over by computers and technology. Progressives often delude themselves into thinking that there is nowhere but up for their individual issues, as if their relatively narrow issues can be taken care of while those who dwell in misery and poverty can be ignored indefinitely. It is a mistake to think that precious natural resources can be preserved or harvested wisely when workers do not have the independence required to ignore bosses' orders to despoil the planet in an era when production for maximum short-term profits is little more than what the bosses have to worry about. On the other hand, with a positive demand for labor, workers would be free to boycott or walk off jobs that are beyond the pale of ordinary morality, which would enable morality and environmental considerations to rule productive activities for a change.
A major reason why there is so much competition for scarce jobs is that too many of the people who do have jobs get overworked. Many people are working 50, 60, 70, and more hours per week because time and a half has ceased to be the disincentive to overwork that the Fair Labor Standards Act originally intended it to be when enacted some 58 years ago. Time and a half multiplied by wages brought down to very low levels by competition for scarce jobs is more affordable than paying insurance and benefit premiums for new hires. To bolster disincentive to working people beyond forty hours, the overtime premium should be increased to a minimum of double time. Furthermore, all workers should be brought under the purview of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which should be strictly enforced. Last year's lax enforcement of measly time and a half enabled bosses to rip off 19 billion dollars worth of extra profits. If unionists organized to walk out at the end of 40 hours unless bosses paid double time for any work beyond 40, unionism itself would be rejuvenated.
Enough wishful thinking for now, for prostitution to radicalism of whatever stripe may prevent progressives from ever rethinking false strategies. The bosses discovered a long time ago that saddling wild-eyed radicals with programs that are quite outside the realm of what's possible is a good way to maintain the status quo. As long as progressives are unthinking partners in the bosses' game of maintaining high levels of unemployment in a status-quo labor market, the lower classes may be condemned to lifetimes of immoral servitude to the bosses' goals of maximum profits by any means necessary, no matter how destructive, unsanitary or wasteful those means may be. We willingly cut each others' throats if it gets us from one day to the next. Even if, someday in the future, cannibalism doesn't get us anywhere, we may still preserve servility to the bosses if that remains the only way to stay out of the many prisons that will continue to be built in a world with no viable alternative vision.
I went to a meeting the other day where I learned just how willing some Trotskyists are to talk out of both sides of their mouths, condemning the bosses and capitalism on the one hand, and condemning scabs on the other for their willingness to replace unionists who dare to strike. When Trotskyists put the fight for freedom from scabbery ahead of the fight for the right of everyone to a decent job at a livable wage, they wonder why only a few fools ever show up at their events. They waste their time trying to convert those who have already been converted to socialism. Their meetings become like church gatherings, or like kindergartens for post-doctorates, as in Communism 101 for those who didn't get it the first 1,000 times.
Here's something that you can do for me, if you're still game. How many of you worked beyond 40 hours last week for less than double time? Quite a few? Well, I want you to know that you are cutting my throat when you do so, because I sometimes can't find enough work to pay my rent and have to borrow, so I will thank you to tell your fellow workers about the 14 million like me who can't find enough work, and I will thank you to ask your fellow workers if they would be willing to walk out at the end of 40 hours in solidarity with the underemployed unless bosses pay double time over 40. You may not be able to change anyone's mind the first time you ask, but if discreet, tactful and persistent, your squeaky wheel may eventually get some grease, and people may find out that they are not as helpless as they thought they were. More easily than they think, they could do something real about crime, poverty, cycles of dependency on welfare, imprisonment of the poor, prostitution of the workforce to the money-bags, spoiling of the environment, etc. If you haven't already discovered how unwilling politicians are to do anything real for us, people who are sick of the direction things are heading in this country and the world may discover sooner or later just how much power there is in higher overtime premiums and shorter hours. For maximum impact, we should make this movement worldwide.
September 12, 1996
Dick Meister's Opinion in the September 11 edition contained a lot of interesting facts and figures, but what remained unstated was the reason for the failure of the wages of the lowest sectors to rise anywhere near the rates of CEO's, a mere 3% rise vs. 500%.
At a time when the length of the work-week remains constant at 40 hours (or even increases, as it has lately), and the lawful overtime premium remains stuck at time and a half, technological advances have drastically lessened the time required to produce necessities of life, and, since necessities of life is usually all that the wages of the lowest paid workers represent, then the working class has to be working a smaller portion of the day or week for itself, but can't take advantage of its increased productivity by going home any earlier, so consequently must be working greater portions of the day and week for the bosses and the government than ever before in history. So, with a constant 40 hours and time and a half during a period of rapidly increasing productivity, what else can one expect than for the income of the upper classes to rise faster than that of the lowest? And, lately, 500% vs. 3% means 166 times faster.
Some may argue that the answer to such an obvious inequity is a ceiling on income, while others may argue for socialism, and others may argue for other programs, but facts, figures, and class experience point only to less work as the solution to workers racing each other to the bottom as they fight among themselves for the privilege of making the rich richer. It is past time for the overworked especially to slow down to ensure everyone a place in the economy, including those who are more than willing to replace unionists who dare to strike, namely, scabs.
The reason why those with jobs have to put in so much overtime is that time and a half has ceased to be the disincentive to overtime and overwork that it was when first enacted just before WW2. Today, insurance and benefits are more expensive than time and a half, so why hire anyone new? An obvious solution is a double time overtime premium, which is a plank in the Labor Party platform. Double time would be a greater disincentive to overworking those who have jobs, and would encourage hiring and training new talent from the vast army of the 14 million underemployed. More time to enjoy higher wages will be the rewards for workers winning double time, and for finding other ways to shorten hours of labor in the future, as they must. Organize!
A movement to ban international production and sales of land mines recently made the news. Though nothing physically blocks the USA from joining the ban, it is difficult to imagine forgoing such production in a country in which workers compete so desperately for scarce jobs. With all of the influence that politicians, manufacturers and labor leaders alike exert to maintain production of destructive devices 'for the sake of jobs', positions vacated by workers due to moral considerations are eagerly snapped up before the ground under their feet has a chance to cool. When desperate competition for scarce jobs forces workers into less than palatable occupations, it is hard to imagine us creating a just and moral society any too soon. With so many workers fighting for what often amounts to a chance to put others down, few search for sensible ways to deal with the economic pressures that drive so many people to perform evil for pay, but who, given a choice, would probably do something more constructive with their lives.
Why are jobs so scarce, and how does that scarcity affect us? One source of job scarcity is overwork for those who have jobs. In spite of the unmet work needs of the 14 million unemployed and underemployed, some workers put in 50, 60, 70 and more hours per week as increasing costs of job-related benefits for new hires motivates bosses to squeeze as much work out of as few existing workers as possible. Before job-related benefits became popular after WW2, the Fair Labor Standards Act was adopted to deal with the high unemployment that characterized the Great Depression era of the 30's. The new time and a half penalty provision of the Act put the actual teeth in the forty hour law, for bosses were required for the first time to pay 150% of normal wages for every hour worked beyond forty per week. A handful of states also adopted time and a half to penalize work beyond eight hours per day, which allowed workers more rest on a day to day basis.
After its introduction, time and a half over 40 effectively discouraged a lot of overwork, and unemployment remained relatively low during the 40's and 50's. After the 40's and 50's, increasing insurance and benefit costs of hiring new workers began to outweigh the disincentive against overwork that time and a half beyond 40 originally provided. Since time and a half has ceased to be the disincentive to overwork that the Act originally intended it to be, the overtime premium should be increased to a minimum of double time, and every worker protected under the Act. As it is now, many workers get no premium overtime pay at all, and too lax enforcement of mere time and a half allowed bosses to pocket an extra $19 billion in profits in 1995. A higher overtime premium and strict enforcement would discourage bosses from overworking people, and would also promote the hiring and training of new workers from the 14 million strong reserve army of underemployed. Bosses may complain loudly that this prescription is too expensive, but a country that is now 40 times more productive than it was two centuries ago has little excuse for overworking one segment of society at the expense of the underemployed, who all too often go homeless, hungry and forgotten.
Increasing Productivity of Labor
Labor's ever increasing productivity will have even more of an impact on employment levels in the next century. Productivity presently improves at the rate of a couple of percent per year, and, like interest, is compounded annually. Dramatic increases in productivity since the invention of the wheel have enabled an explosion of services and products, many of them unknown in previous generations. Whether it's necessities of life or luxuries, less time than ever is required to produce all kinds of things, both new and traditional. Even though machines have yet to acquire the intelligence of a fly on a wall, jobs are being phased out exactly as in the manner of any obsolete trade, process or machinery of production, such as lamp lighting, cargo schooners, and horse drawn plows. Technological evolution will someday proceed so much more rapidly, that workers will get laid off faster than what they can be utilized in new endeavors.
Common sense dictates that workers will someday have to take advantage of the labor-saving aspects of technology in order to take life a little easier, but, lately, full-timers don't get to go home any earlier in the day or week, but instead continue to plug along and spend more time at work than during the Great Depression, but for whom? Not to their own advantage, for wages and standards of living for the lowest sectors have been declining for the past 20 years, whereas upper class living standards have gone nowhere but up. Workers now produce capital, surpluses, profits and a stronger government at rates unprecedented in history, but keep a diminishing amount of the new wealth they create, 98% now going to the upper 20% of the population, while only 2% goes to the lower 80%, figures that hardly look believable, but similar figures from another source show that 90% of all new wealth goes to the upper 10% of the population, while the lower 90% get only 10% of new wealth.
No matter how long or how hard the working class works in the present era, workers only get poorer while the rich continue to get richer. What should be becoming more obvious is that wages only represent the necessities of life, which take less and less time to create, while workers are spending greater portions of any given workday making the rich richer, and the government more powerful.
The upper classes use their economic power to foster dominance of their agendas in government. Their abilities to funnel part of their great incomes to candidates and parties to promote upper class agendas is not an option for the lowest classes, who spend most of what little they earn for necessities of life, leaving not much left over for political influence. Hence, the preponderance of laws that benefit the upper classes at the expense of the lower classes. Instead of increasing the overtime premium to double time to reduce the rolls of the unemployed, politicians instead listen to prison industry spokespersons who want prisons constructed, and want laws written to put people in them, condemning an increasing number of the unemployed to waste their lives rotting away in cells. In order to rationalize the illogical policies of the rich, the poor are vilified as 'lazy' and 'no good' in order to more easily blame them for their inability to find decent work.
Because not all of the increasing surpluses that are produced get converted into new industries employing more workers, demand for workers in the labor market falls off, a scarcity of jobs enables bosses to attract workers to lower wages and worse working conditions, and discouraged workers who have given up looking for work are no longer even counted in official unemployment figures. Desperation for any pay at all forces workers to accept unsustainable wages doing less than palatable work in less than hospitable conditions, and the standard of living of the lower classes has fallen off to the point where the minimum wage is insufficient to keep people and families afloat even with both spouses working, keeps a quarter of them within the official poverty bracket, and forces some working families to apply for various forms of public assistance.
As long as automation continues to replace human labor with computers and robots, labor will periodically find itself competing for scarce jobs. Diminishing hours of labor for humans is the only logical way to take advantage of the enormous productivity gains of the automation revolution, and to prepare for the future when computers, robots and technology will take over even more work, both mental and physical. Hours of labor will periodically have to be shortened, and overtime premiums will periodically have to be adjusted upward in order to keep everyone employed and to minimize competition for jobs, lest workers continually dwell in pits of insecurity, unemployment, poverty, escapist drug use, crime, social problems of all sorts, immorality, and the willingness to do anything at all to make a buck.
Competition for scarce jobs continually condemns people to fight for the chance to engage in morally degrading occupations, despoiling the earth as they clear-cut forests, build land mines, etc. Imagine having to make the choice between job security and blowing the whistle on companies that obviously do wrong, but choices like that get made every second of every day. Competition for scarce jobs condemns people to make inhuman choices, whereas a society-wide movement to eliminate competition for scarce jobs would free workers to boycott destructive occupations, free workers to blow the whistle on abusive corporations, and help morality, or our sense of right and wrong, to determine what will be produced. Boycotting jobs need not translate into unemployment under the new paradigm, for room for any number of displaced workers could be created by further shortening hours of labor, rendering inconsequential the loss of any jobs due to moral or environmental considerations.
Our country is one of the many in which the product of labor is badly distributed because work itself is badly distributed. People should be able to make a decent living without having to work night and day for next to nothing. The only prescription that will cure the imbalance of overwork and underwork is a more even distribution of work to everyone who needs it. More equitably distributing work will also be the most efficient means of lifting the lowest classes out of poverty. Lack of concern over the need to place everyone in the economy indicates selfish self-absorption among those who are better off. An obvious step toward a higher stage of societal morality would be for us to redistribute work to all who could use it, enabling workers to spend more time in their communities enjoying their lives, and solving their own problems without the assistance of big government, enabling government itself to be further down-sized without adverse repercussions to society. As long as society continues to reproduce the economic and political attitudes of the bosses that allows the devil to take the hindmost, workers will continue to suffer all of the vicissitudes of a labor market that is bound to get heavier on supply, and lighter on demand, as theorists predicted over a century ago. Until workers take more of an active interest in the future of work, the lower echelons will suffer increasing rates of unemployment, poverty, social misery, imprisonment, and cutoffs in social services.
For as long in the future that people will need to work in order to make a living, labor and social activists could take the lead in assuring that everyone enjoys a place in the economy at a living wage, but far too many of the same concerned good people are continually led astray into thinking that some radical panacea of property redistribution or taxing the rich will fix everything. While faith in democracy and capitalism kept ordinary Americans out of radical movements, increasing misery among the lower classes enabled entrepreneurs to enter the marketplace of ideas with socialist, communist and anarchist solutions not often esteemed by the rich, but their appeal to labor and progressive circles enabled businesses devoted to ideologies to prosper, at least until the recent world-wide collapse of most of the world's socialist systems.
Progressive movements have come and gone for more than a century. Some have featured both minimum and maximum programs, minimum planks consisting of reforms, while maximum programs ambitiously call for reorganizing government and property relations on a socialist, anarchist, or communist basis. The three 'isms represent three different and incompatible means of dealing with property and government to arrive at a mutual goal of classless, stateless nirvana; anarchists aiming to replace governments with classless, stateless workers' organizations, or unions; socialists aiming to tax the rich to create a benevolent reformist government that would nationalize industries; and communists aiming to replace existing governments with workers' states that would nationalize land and industries on a more immediate basis. Religious adherence to any of the three incompatible programs prevents unity among leftists, for it is impossible to implement any one of the three without disenfranchising adherents to the other plans.
Top ideological bureaucrats in the worst of the movements and parties operate in relative secrecy to perpetuate the purity of the ideologies that they market, and to perpetuate their own personal dominance. Rank and filers are routinely censored by ideological bureaucrats who despair that the logical weaknesses of their ideologies might be discussed, which is one of the reasons why hardly anyone talks revolutionary theory anymore. Competition among movements for the greatest market share of naive followers ensures rivalry between groups, even amid calls for unity.
The right wing maintains a phobia of anything red, even though property redistribution goes against modern trends. The extraordinary amounts of force that are required to change property relations are incompatible with freedom and democracy. World history has demonstrated the amount of force and violence required to expropriate property, and even our own Civil War showed how much force was required just to deprive Southerners of their privilege of owning other people. Providing freed slaves with their promised 40 acres and a mule would have necessitated dismantling the plantations, which would have required much more force and violence than what society was prepared to use, so they settled for private ownership of everything except humans.
If redistributing property had ever made any sense for the west, it would have been easier to implement in America and in Europe than in Asia, where all but a few anarchists believe that socialism happened first. The reason why socialism didn't happen in the west is that, even after winning elections in western democracies, communists and socialists never possessed the physical might required to redistribute property. On the other hand, after helping to overthrow feudal monarchies in backward countries, as in Russia, or after liberating colonies, as in Africa, socialists and communists did possess the amount of force that was required to nationalize industries and abolish private ownership of land, and, on the very first day of the Bolshevik Revolution, private ownership of land was abolished in Russia.
The fact that socialist property redistributions occurred only in less developed countries shows that actually existing socialism is lower in stature than capitalism. In spite of socialism appearing to have only briefly filled a niche in the progression from feudalism to capitalism in less developed countries, ideologues abandon their favorite programs of change little more readily than religious sectarians forsake their favorite religions. Only time will tell if abandoning ideologies that make no sense for advanced capitalist democracies will prove too difficult for progressives and revolutionaries.
Democracy and capitalism seem to be here to stay for a while. At the same time, our inability to manage them judiciously accelerates society's downward slide into enormous inequalities, which shakes the right's confidence in their own belief systems, many of whom are no less concerned than the left with the task of creating an equitable society. In spite of the near complete defeat of the red threat, the right never ceases to play it up before appreciative audiences, some rightists egotistical enough to credit themselves with having done something real to assure the collapse of communism, while other rightists now define socialists as 'those who are slow to abolish the capital gains tax'. Phobias over the three 'isms of socialism, communism and anarchism prevent the right from being anything but knee-jerk diametrically opposed to anything the left proposes for solutions, and with good counsel in many cases, unless tempted to lump in shorter hours with every other aspect of leftism. But, shorter hours has nothing to do with haphazard or arbitrary confiscation and tax schemes, nor directly with any of the three 'isms. Shorter hours and higher overtime premiums result in nothing more drastic than uniform profit reductions across the entire class of employers, enabling them all to equitably share the costs of bringing everyone into the economy. Shorter hours are much fairer than any concept of taxation, would enable taxes and dependence on big government to be reduced even more, and stands head and shoulders above all other plans for reducing inequalities. The movement to eliminate competition in the labor market enjoys a complete lack of a hidden agenda, it being no mere stepping stone to replacing capitalism with some allegedly more humane system. Will society ever be humane enough to ensure everyone a place in the economy?
Selling overtime services too cheaply causes those with jobs to be overworked, the overwork of some workers intensifies competition for scarce jobs, and makes it difficult for 14 million to survive. Competition for scarce jobs lowers the general rate of wages, and low wages keep lower class living standards unreasonably low. Until Congress is sufficiently motivated to boost the overtime premium by amending the Fair Labor Standards Act, workers and unionists should organize to walk off their jobs at the end of forty hours per week unless bosses pay them double time. A double time amendment would enable those who have jobs to spend more time at home and in their communities, and simultaneously encourage bosses to hire and train new workers. Let this slogan ring out all over the world: Double time, or no overtime at all!
October 21, 1996
At the September 26 rally in San Francisco to save Headwaters Forest and the last of the old-growth redwoods in Northern California, I carried a sign that read, "Competition for scarce jobs forces workers to fight for the chance to cut down Headwaters." One by one, 5 different people came up to tell me how well the message defined the "jobs vs. environment" issue for them. With so much competition for scarce jobs, many priceless assets are condemned to destruction as private and government workers alike are forced to obey orders or find other sources of livelihoods, i.e., if they think they can find alternatives to clearcutting the last of the redwoods, beating up on the poor, polluting the environment, building land mines, or so many other destructive jobs.
What to do? Shortening hours of labor enough to create a positive demand for workers would enable them to boycott life-negating occupations, enable them to walk away from manufacturers of land-mines, and enable them to agree with environmentalists that our country just might be able to afford to save the last of the old-growth redwoods and still put everyone to work at the very same time. A positive demand for labor would free workers to walk off life-negating work without fear of being unemployed, for hours of labor could always be further reduced to render the moral rejection of rotten jobs inconsequential. All it will take is to find our way back onto the path of our forebears, who fought for and won a few percent reduction in hours of labor during every decade for a whole century before business and government combined to throw them off the track in the 1920's and 30's, enticing them instead into consumerism and government make-work programs. Don't look for much social progress until workers' competition for scarce jobs is converted into bosses' competition for scarce labor.
This election season marks the beginning of the end of affirmative action. The end of another ill-conceived boondoggle that created in its time little more than bureaucracy, and did little more than redistribute scarce resources from one group of disinherited to another, this time based solely on the basis of gender and skin color. Out with white males, and in with women and people of color.
I personally voted against Prop. 209, because with no superior alternative on the ballot to take its place would have meant a vote for even greater inequalities among the lower classes, a situation for which I have little taste.
What was missing from the ballot was an alternative act that would have shortened hours of labor enough to create a positive demand for labor that would have put everyone to work, raised wages for everyone to the point where they could spend whatever they wanted for whatever education or leisure they desired.
It is amazing to still find people who think of the present economy as a natural process that consistently delivers the greatest good to the greatest number of people, and that those who are poor, hungry, or homeless are so by dint of their own sweet choices. To many people, America has long been the home of the good life, a place where middle class status is conferred on just about anyone with a bit of gumption, many people going into business for themselves and either making millions, or coming close. But, can economic freedom for everyone be anything better than a delusion, when the economy is managed to maintain an unemployment rate of 5-6 percent? It may very well be the delusion of 'free choice for everyone' that prevents the lucky ones for whom the economy works well from taking a closer look at the actual state of affairs, or from being more concerned with those at the bottom rungs of society.
The affluent may not beat paths to libraries in search of histories of movements of the oppressed classes in America, though such histories, well-done or not, abound in the market place of ideas, where the buyer should certainly beware. Here, myths abound, one of the most enduring of which is that late President Franklin Delano Roosevelt saved the country from communism by giving us Social Security, old-age pensions, unemployment compensation, minimum wages, and other New Deal government programs. F.D.R. and his advisors may have 'given' American Labor all of these and more, but such reforms were not so much designed to save America from the threat of communism as they were designed to 'save' Americans from the threat of the leisure that would have been created by a 30-hour work-week bill that nearly passed Congress.
A book that went a long way toward exploding many myths of the American economy was "Work Without End", by Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt, Professor of Leisure Studies at the University of Iowa. The book's title alone helps explain the essence of the policies that were argued or enacted during the Great Depression of the 1930's.
During the previous century, America was transformed from a predominantly agricultural country to an industrial giant, from about 70 percent of the population living on and working the land in 1820, to about 25 percent by a century later, as improvements in tools of production pared down the need for agricultural labor, and enabled people to gravitate toward industrial centers. That same time period saw the rise of a labor movement that, though small at first, continually fought for and won reductions in hours of labor as improvements in tools of production created a stark choice between overproduction, or more free time for workers.
For the past two centuries, the choice increasingly facing the working class as a class has been to either equally share what little work that remains for people to do, or incessantly and bitterly compete for increasingly scarce jobs, the latter policy automatically condemning the weakest to unemployment, hunger and homelessness, while ensuring fatter profits to the upper classes. During the previous century, strikes for shorter hours swept industry after industry, the results of which - a century-long decline in hours of labor - did not go unnoticed as the working class grew proportionally larger, causing philosophers to wonder where movements for shorter hours would take the nation, and for others to predict the end of work altogether within a few generations.
At first, the decline in hours of labor was not as bitterly contested as it later came to be, for many practical and humanitarian factors argued in favor of shorter hours, factors such as: public safety, civic duties like voting, time to enjoy one's family, morality, a more rounded development of the individual, as well as levels of wages, unemployment and workers' control.
But, as "Work Without End" shows, once the average weekly hours of labor declined to around 50 or so, the bosses and the government became increasingly concerned over workers winning any more free time for themselves. It was then, and for the first time, that business and industry acted in concert to resist and reject shorter hour proposals during the 1920's and 30's. This new and stubborn resistance did not go unnoticed by unionists, who warned of big trouble ahead, which prediction came true in the form of the infamous stock market crash of 1929, and the Great Depression of the 30's. These results did not really surprise the public at the time, for people in general knew that over-production caused the crash and depression, unnecessarily long hours of work producing gluts of commodities that too few were able or willing to buy. Unionists had already learned through long experience that continually increasing productivity without cutting back on hours of labor would lead to a business cycle of overproduction, production cutbacks, layoffs, unemployment and a period of stagnation.
High-level policy makers also knew that overproduction would lead to difficulties. Well before the 1929 Stock Market crash, gluttonous consumerism was promoted to hopefully boost both production and employment. Greater efforts were made to advertise, to make shopping windows more attractive, and to offer credit through easy installment payback plans. At the same time, propaganda mills were busy extolling the wondrous benefits of good old-fashioned hard work, and how much people allegedly longed for it. Theorists of enslaving the working class, like Harry Hopkins and Rexford Tugwell, spun out ideas for creating, elaborating, and multiplying work. Policy makers dreamt of an economy in which everyone would work for everyone else, and everyone would also employ everyone else.
Scientists who had previously been praised for making work easier suddenly found themselves scapegoated by vulgar critics for making workers too productive and thus causing the Depression. Intelligent social theoreticians like Arthur Dahlberg, on the other hand, argued that capitalism could be practically an ideal economic system if forced to operate under a chronic shortage of labor; for then, unemployment would be non-existent, people would be free of material cares and wants, they would have time in their lives to pursue goals nobler than commerce, and the government could remain small and unobtrusive.
In spite of all of the efforts to boost consumption and trade, average hours of labor fell to a low of 33 per week in 1933. It was estimated that half of all businesses at the time voluntarily cut back on hours of labor to enable people to share what little work that remained for humans to do, a voluntary policy that was praised by President Herbert Hoover. To assure greater stability in all workplaces, however, the AFL demanded legislation to bring down hours of labor for all workers. Labor supported the Black-Connery 30-hour bill that actually passed the Senate, and nearly passed the House of Representatives. But, the bosses prevailed on the F.D.R. Administration to block it. In its stead, New Deal measures created agencies to encourage bosses to voluntarily maintain wage levels, and to cut back on the worst excesses of overwork. Other agencies were created to keep people busy on public works projects like erosion control, reseeding forests, painting murals, building dams, roads and bridges, etc., all of which stimulated the economy.
In spite of the many government efforts to put more people to work, unemployment remained unreasonably high. At the same time, average weekly hours of labor climbed to 48 by 1936, 15 more hours per week in just 3 years. In that same year of 1936, France passed its own 40-hour law, and in 1937, our own Fair Labor Standards Act mandated annual increases in minimum wages for each of the following 4 years, and mandated time and a half after 44 hours per week in 1938, after 42 in 1939, and after 40 in 1940. In that way, the government finally did something real to curtail the most egregious excesses of overwork.
Since then, average hours of labor have fluctuated relatively little through mini-booms, recessions, wars, and post-war recoveries, in spite of enormous gains in productivity that could and should have afforded less work to producers. Instead of enjoying greater leisure, they largely race their peers to make the rich extraordinarily rich, and their governments more powerful. An American economy that had once served quite well to provide necessities of life for nearly everyone took a giant leap through New Deal policies toward becoming a machine whose sole purpose was to maximize profits for the rich, while pacifying labor with band-aids whose historical purpose could only be to divert labor away from its traditional shorter hour interests. At present, a generation-long trend of declining wages and increasing profits combined with a rebellion against higher taxes has created a new crisis for the 40-hour week, begging the question of whether any mechanism devisable by the human mind will be able to provide enough 40-hour jobs to maintain a semblance of civility in a society increasingly ridden by cynicism, intoxication and crime, problems that can be lain right on the doorstep of fundamentally reactionary New Deal policies.
The bosses and the government knew that creating and maintaining competition for scarce jobs would be a sure-fire means of lowering wages across the board, and would create economic pressures that would split families apart as their members went hither and yon in search of means of making a living. Such split-ups would also make it less likely that fragmented family members would be willing or able to support one another, hence the need for national programs like Social Security and Unemployment Compensation, etc., to take the place of the more traditional nurturing of close family ties. In this way, loyalty to the family was converted into loyalty to the government.
The bosses and the government know that the best way to get workers to prostitute themselves to the fleshpots of capital, and to get them to do anything that they are paid to do, is to maintain competition for scarce jobs; and the best way to make jobs scarce is to keep workers on the job for as great a portion of the day or week as possible, and to get those workers who are 'lucky' enough to have jobs to rob the bulk of the work from other would-be workers. If those who have jobs are dumb enough to attack eager replacements as 'scabs', then so much the better for the bosses, and workers can always be hired to do the dirty work of splitting and fracturing the working class into disparate elements with seemingly no interests in common.
It has never taken such a small proportion of time to create necessities of life, and workers have never been more redundant. An article in Electronic Engineering Times predicts the end of all physical labor by 2086. One of the upper class solutions to the redundancy of workers is the criminalization of everything, and then throwing the 'guilty' in jail. According to the December issue of News and Letters, workers in Europe will march en masse for shorter hours this year. Nothing would be more appropriate for American workers than to recognize shorter hours as a means in itself toward social justice, and to march on May Day and Labor Day in solidarity with Europe, and in solidarity with our own 40 million living in poverty, and with our own 6 million homeless. In a part of the world in which increased productivity should have consigned struggles for existence to the museum of antiquities, these are shameful statistics. A more humane goal than ensuring a job for everyone who needs one is difficult to imagine. Misfortune compounded upon failure may someday teach honest but frustrated progressives that getting nowhere while pursuing changes in government or in property relations cannot hold a candle to the progressive and beneficial effects of reducing hours of labor sufficient to put everyone to work.
January 26, 1997
On Friday the 24th, the Industrial Welfare Commission manifested a willingness to help employers maximize short-term profits, but many concerned and responsible citizens warned of increased suffering within the ranks of California workers when time and a half after eight hours is scrapped in favor of the federal 'time and a half after 40 hours' standard used by an overwhelming majority of other states.
The right thing to do is not to weaken the existing standard in California, but rather to export our more stringent California standards to the rest of the states. That would remove pressure from the 'need' to change California law, and would lift a little of the exploitation off the backs of the rest of the American labor force, a force that badly needs protection from the effects of the greed lust of the employers, who would like to have a maximum of 'flexibility' and freedom to use labor as it desires.
The big issue is, can California, the rest of the country, and society in general, afford to allow workers a modicum of decency in treatment? The representatives of the bosses say no, time and time again. Hearings continue on this issue.
February 10, 1997
At a time when California companies have never been so profitable, Governor Pete Wilson and his appointed Industrial Welfare Commission are being pressured to allow businesses to be even more 'flexible' in the ways they can exploit labor. The Chamber of Commerce argues that 47 other states do not require time and a half after 8 per day, so businesses threaten to move out of state - or even offshore - if the state does not deregulate down to the weaker national standard of time and a half after 40 hours per week. Unions are dead set against this, for lowering the standard would go exactly opposite to the interests of the working class. The surest way to protect time and a half after 8 in California is to get all of the other states to adopt it, with no exceptions for any class of worker. This would relieve a lot of us from having to work dangerously long hours, and would help distribute 'what little work that hasn't yet been taken over by computers and technology' more evenly among the class. Hearings will end in early Spring, after which a decision will be made.
Socialists have long used the 'hours of labor' issue to recruit workers into their movements. Workers express interest in sharing work by means of a shorter day while socialist cadre say: "You want a shorter work-day? We already have a shorter work-day in our platform, and our proposal is for fewer hours than what you propose, so follow our lead, elect us to power, and a shorter work-week is inevitable when we get into power. Decreases in work-time will become automatic, and you will never have to fight for decreases again, so put us in power." Response: "Hey, I'm ready. Sign me up."
The lesson here is that socialists used the legitimate and humanitarian interests of the lower classes in sharing what little work that has not yet been taken over by machines and technology to recruit workers into movements to take power, take away the property of the rich, tax the rich, smash the state, create workers' states, create one-big-union stateless cooperatives, and any of dozens of other pie-in-the-sky power and property manipulating ideas that may have been feasible in Asia or Africa after socialists helped overthrow feudal monarchies (as in Russia), or helped to liberate colonies (as in Africa), but was never feasible after winning mere elections in the democratic countries of Western Europe, because power and property manipulations were feasible only when socialists had the kind of physical force in their hands that availed while struggling for democracy in less-developed countries during most of this century.
In this country, sharing the work was the bait, and the lower classes got hooked on various forms of anarchism, socialism, and communism that are all incompatible with what's both likely and logical in western democracies, but which enjoyed a degree of success in less developed countries in the past, but whose glories are now fading, having been given up by over a billion people, causing us to wonder why we fight so much within our ranks, and why most of our economic movements never get anywhere, or slip behind.
Our appetite for labor is quite limited by the fact that the day is only 24 hours long, but our lust for property knows no bounds. My house, my block, my city, my state, my country, my planet, my universe. How much more can I own, and where do I cash in my chips? I think we will be much more amenable to limiting how much we will allow each other to work than to limiting how much we can own.
We should work hard to save the 8-hour day in California, and extend our more stringent laws to the rest of the states. After we save the 8-hour day in California, we can then continue to hammer away on the hours issue until everyone who ever wanted a job can then find one. No one needs to be told that such an agenda would bring far more dignity to the 40 million neglected and living in poverty than would welfare, food stamps, or any form of hand-out. Those of us who live at the bottom of the heap demand our fair share of productive work, and that doesn't mean New Deal make-work programs, either, We want to be part of a society with a better vision than just creating deadly boring and wasteful government jobs that consume and waste lots of resources, but put only a few to work, and never address the misery of those of us at the bottom. As they said so long ago, 'If work doesn't have any soul, there should be less of it.' Half of the welfare budget goes toward prosecution of welfare recipients. We don't want to add a dozen more prosecutors jobs so that poor people can prosecute other poor people. We demand a share in what productive work that remains, and an end to wasteful work, now!
People associate a living wage with long hours of work, such as 8 hours or longer, and may therefore automatically associate shorter hours with a reduced standard of living. Long neglect of the hours of labor issue has prevented good education from taking place, viz., that our constantly increasing productivity will render the 8 hour day as anachronistic in the next century as the 12 and 10 hour days were rendered by technological progress in this century. It takes less time than ever to produce necessities of life, while wages mostly represent necessities. If the hours of labor do not decline at the same rate at which the time to create necessities declines, then we spend more of our time than ever making the bosses inordinately rich, and our governments more powerful. We are presently racing each other to the bottom in a mad dash to obtain for our individual selves what few declining opportunities exist to make our bosses rich and our governments more powerful. What a way to die, but it seems to be the only form of life that all too many of us are willing to go along with.
Poor people may end up begging labor for access to jobs, for labor has been all too willing to work long hours, but not willing enough to share work with the poor, as though shorter hours would hurt them. Picket the Union Halls! Demand that workers clear out of their work places at the end of 8 hours to make room for more people. Share the work.
Help start a movement to let reason direct our action. Don't let Pete Wilson's Industrial Welfare Commission take away time and a half after 8 hours in California. Rally big and strong in Oakland on March 20, 1997, at the CalTrans Auditorium, 111 Grand Avenue (at Webster), 1st floor, from 1-2pm. Insist that all of the states adopt double time after 8 hours per day without exception for any worker, and regardless of existing collective bargaining agreements. Don't let bureaucrats bargain away the rights of the lowest classes to work. Send a strong message to labor leaders, the bosses, and the government to enable every member of the working class to share what little work that remains for people to do. Share the work thru shorter hours, higher overtime premiums, earlier retirement, longer paid vacations, a dozen paid holidays, paid sabbaticals, etc. Create an artificial shortage of labor that will enable workers to boycott the manufacture of land mines, the cutting down of the last of the redwoods, and other wasteful occupations. Together, we can create a moral society that does right by the planet and its citizens, instead of doing wrong.
In a seeming contradiction, long hours equals low pay for many, while short hours equals adequate pay for all. In a world of ever-increasing productivity of labor, where it takes less time than ever to create the necessities of life, willingness to work long hours steals work away from those who could use some. Willingly working long hours drives wages down for everyone. To enable work to be shared, the poor demand that workers refuse any more than 40 hours of work per week. Only then will there be any long term reduction in imprisonment, unemployment, hunger and homelessness. Don't vote for politicians who won't put laws to implement work-sharing at the top of their legislative agendas.
Encourage unions to adopt policies to clear out of their work places at the end of 8 hours or less to make room for the underemployed. Sharing what little work that has yet to be taken over by automation is the only sensible and ecological way to put everyone to work, no matter what the leftists or the rightists might have to say to the contrary.
Your unwillingness to fight to preserve the 8-hour day in California served me well. No longer will you receive time and a half after 8 hours a day, nor double time after 12, thanks to the apathy I instilled in you. Your apathy also helped me cheat you out of $1.9 billion in overtime pay last year alone, which provided extra profits for me. No more will you be able to resist when I demand that you work long shifts, for, if you do resist, then you are fired! I can easily do without resisters, for there are 10 times as many others who are willing to do anything I pay them to do for lower and lower wages, making me rich beyond my wildest dreams!
You don't stand a chance! I control the world! I own the machines! And you are so dumb as to prostrate yourselves before me, and worship the machine that you have created for me alone to enjoy the fruits of! Oh frabjous day, calloo, callay, I chortle in my joy! This is my lucky day!
When I overcome the few remaining government hurdles, I will expect you to step lively and fight each other for the last few opportunities to complete my redwood harvesting plans. In fact, for my amusement, I think that I will build an arena in which I will have you fight with chain saws to see who will be the fittest of all to cut down the very last redwood.
When the redwoods are all gone, I will have the last of you fight each other for chances to work in my other industries, while computers and technologies replace more and more jobs. I will stage more battles in more arenas for you to cut each other to pieces over declining opportunities to make me rich and powerful beyond my wildest dreams, while you laugh at one another's misfortunes!
And you are so sleepy that I can even tell you that it is your willingness to work long hours, and to steal work away from those who could use some, that keeps me so rich and powerful. As long as enough of you can still find jobs, you will never organize to do a thing about it! I've got you where I want you, watching Beavis and Butt-Head, entranced by the baby sitter I developed for you to 'enjoy'. It sure beats you talking to each other. There's no telling what your idle hands and minds would cook up for me, if you remembered how to carry on dialogue at all!
And your 'leadership'! I've got them where I want them, too. I taught them long ago to clamp down on dissent, taught them how to make themselves impervious to what little 'popular will' that remains among you. And if you don't like it, go out and build an organization of your own! Ha, ha, ha, ha, don't make me laugh so hard. My fat belly might burst! I've got people in the wings just champing at the bit, waiting to lead you down one blind alley after another!
My very favorites are the revolutionaries who can't decide among themselves whether to create a workers' state, a stateless anarchy, or try to tax me to create the kind of government that they think will put everyone to work! To counteract any jobs programs you create, I easily manipulate Federal Reserve policy to ensure the kind of balance between competition for scarce jobs that keeps me super-profitable, and unemployment figures that would almost have me scared, if I wasn't so sure of your complete ineffectuality. I'm very happy for you to fight among yourselves over equally unlikely schemes for 'progressive' change. I've got you boxed in! There is no escape, and I can even tell you how to escape, can give you the key, and you will not use it, so hung up are you on taking away my property through anarchism, communism and socialism, all of which I support, in order to divide you! You only think that you stand a chance to kick my butt. You're so ignorant of what you only think you believe in, that I know you'll never understand what I'm talking about. Thank God for religious adherence to absurd ideologies!
I support any activity that the majority of the people will never get behind. It's called 'frittering away the energies of the lower classes', in case I have to spell it out for you. But, in the great marketplace of ideas, we can do without ideologies that are entirely based upon fraud. So, be plausible, at least, if you expect to compete. But, which ideologies do you adhere to that are not based either on fraud, or on stupid mistakes that no one will ever bother to examine, especially by people who can still make a buck preserving mindless idiocies that have snowballs' chances in hell of being adopted by the all-important majority? Capitalist competition serves me very well, but only when practiced by left-wing groups! Otherwise, I like monopoly!
Good-bye! In this demand for you to ignore theory and get busy and practice anything, I've already given you the key, but I know that you'll be too lazy or busy to go back to look for it, especially if your little minds have been too deadened to figure it out. Anyway, your continued support will continue to be extracted, whether you like it or not. Good luck, suckers!
Picture a five-person commission charged by law with protecting California workers' interests, but hand-picked by Governor Pete Wilson to help him to sabotage those protections, and replace them with policies that will make California businesses more profitable than ever.
Picture a small contingent of California workers and unionists dedicated to preserving decent hours, pay rates, working conditions, and standards of living, a struggle with a tradition that goes back for two centuries in this country.
Try hanging those two pictures on the same wall, as was tried on Friday, April 11, and the result was the most raucous meeting of the Commission in recent memory, ever since public hearings on watering down California overtime premiums to the national standard of time and a half after 40 per week began.
Relying on 'many letters from workers demanding more flexible work schedules', and on a Stanford-Hoover Study alleged to be flawed by one of the other Commissioners, Chairperson Robyn Black led a 3-2 vote to overturn California's progressive overtime provisions of time and a half after 8 hours per day, and double time after 12, a progressive overtime pay requirement shared by only two other states. Starting July 1, California could default to the weaker national standard of time and a half after 40. And, in a struggle on the national level, even the 40 hour week could be watered down to time and a half after 160 hours per month, if bosses have their way.
After the vote, the protest set up by the 200 workers who filled the auditorium made it too difficult for the Commission to complete their agenda, so police were ordered to 'escort' a few of the most vociferous protesters out of the room. Three were carried out bodily and were issued misdemeanor citations for disrupting the meeting, and were released.
Near the end of the Commission's agenda, a worker almost managed to punish the Chairperson by assassinating her with a handgun, but was subdued by police before a shot could be fired.
The California Labor Federation immediately sued the Commission on the basis of ambiguous jurisdiction over this matter. What Governor Pete Wilson had not been able to accomplish in the Legislature was referred to the Commission, but an injunction could be handed down before the Commission's ruling goes into effect either on July 1, or on New Year's Day.
What will the Industrial Welfare Commission's decision mean for California? If upheld, fewer workers will end up doing the work that had previously been shared by more of them. Many will end up with longer shifts, for it will cost the bosses less to keep workers on the job for long stretches, which will result in yet higher profits, as though bosses really need them. Fatigued workers will make more mistakes that will result in yet more waste in the economy that will accrue to the GNP, which the Chamber of Commerce will proudly point to as an indication of success for the California economy.
Competition for scarcer work will force desperate workers to clog highways and freeways as never before, in hopes of finding a pot of work at the end of the rainbow. Desperate workers will accept work in worse conditions, and at lower wages, which will mean higher profits for the bosses. Those unable to find work can less expect to be taken care of by a rapidly disappearing social safety net. Those who can be picked upon as different in any way will be scapegoated as 'the cause of the country's problems'. Some workers will be more apt to demonize ethnic groups, attacks on racial minorities will increase, as well as gay-bashing. Desperate individuals will attempt to get by any way they can, forcing the lower classes to prey on each other as never before. Crimes of all sorts will increase. More money than ever will be spent on security devices. Health care will become less affordable to the poorest sectors.
With its action, the Commission has done the workers of California an enormous disservice. The Commission went exactly opposite to the direction toward which they should have gone. As Tom Rankin of the California Labor Federation stated, the Commission should have upgraded overtime payments to double time after 8 hours per day, so as to better distribute what little work that has yet to be taken over by computers and robots, and to enable what little work that remains to be done by humans to be more equitably shared.
In spite of the bad news, workers need not simply stand idly by. They could make lemonade out of this lemon by organizing to walk out unless the bosses agree to pay them double time after 8, triple after 10, and quadruple after 12, as well as double time after 40 per week, triple after 50, and quadruple after 60. This would be an excellent first step toward ensuring that the humanitarian goal of 'a job for everyone who wants one' can be realized. Workers can rely only on each other to achieve this goal. Higher overtime premiums, shorter hours, longer paid vacations, more paid holidays and earlier retirement are all excellent means by which the remaining productive work can be shared.
On April 11, Governor Pete Wilson's hand-picked Industrial Welfare Commission delivered the goods that he was unable to push through the Legislature, ending California's progressive overtime rates of time and a half after 8 hours per day, and double time after 12, if the action is upheld in court.
During a recess after the most important ruling, police cleared the auditorium, after which only a handful returned to observe the final proceedings, much of which was 'housekeeping' associated with implementing the end of California's 8 hour day.
One handful of workers seemed intent, like myself, to stay to the end. I thought it unusual that one who had been sitting in the middle of the group moved to a seat closer to the front at the side of the room, instead of staying with his group. Not long after, he raised his hand, hoping to be recognized by the Chair. After keeping his hand aloft for perhaps 15 minutes, and still not being recognized, he finally did what so many others did, which was to interrupt the proceedings by speaking directly to the Chair, who offered him a moment to speak his piece.
He did the unusual thing of getting out of his seat so as to place his wrist watch under the Chair's nose so that she could time his speech, as if she did not have the option of silencing him when desired. Having had their suspicions aroused at that point, two police walked past me to get closer to him. I was mostly keeping my gaze on the notes I was taking, and was surprised to hear him finish his complaint with the statement, "Now I am going to end my existence." By the time I looked up, a half-dozen police had pushed him back on a table, and had thrown themselves on top of him. His right hand clearly held a gun, and many police held his arm pointing toward my right, where, had the gun gone off, bullets would not have done any harm. Someone yelled for us to duck, so many dived between the rows of chairs. Moments later, we were ordered out of the room. We were directed to the inner courtyard, where the group with whom the would-be assassin had been sitting was lamenting the fact that he had made them and their union look bad, so they declined to mention their union's name.
This incident will mean different things to different people. Surely the attempted assassination was motivated by a desire to punish the Commission for its 'crime' of willingly playing into the hands of the bosses, and increasing competition between workers. If the Commission's ruling is upheld in court, much more needless suffering on the part of the working class will no doubt result, while the bosses' agenda of fueling their own short term profits is fulfilled. At such a 'high' level of policy making, no crime against Californians will be labeled by the mass media as anything more insidious than expedient policy, with no malice intended. When the lowest classes finally 'go postal', everyone yells 'shame', and those who inappropriately express their dissatisfaction are condemned to rot their lives away in increasingly barbarous prisons. Ever harsher punishment of the poor is the only solution that the upper classes find worthwhile considering.
In my book, Andrew Barnett is like a canary in a mine who let us all know that we are in a precipitous state of decline as a society. The upper classes know very well what makes them rich, and execute policy appropriate to making themselves even richer, while the lower classes have as many different theories about that as there are countless groups and organizations seemingly dedicated to making the world a little better. People should pay close attention to what happened on the 11th of April, 1997, and try to understand what the actions of the Commission will mean to their lives. If we are smart, we will organize to directly counter the Commission's actions, and walk out at the end of 8 hours if offered less than double time. Though workers may never agree on how to rip off the property of the rich, solidarity on the hours issue could solve every one of their problems, as well as enable them to save what's left of the redwoods through increased workers' control. The labor market is but a mental construct that enables bosses to treat us like the cattle that we will continue to be, until we do something real about it. For every cattle driver shot in the line of duty, a dozen more will be more than willing to take their places, but our own subservience to the moneybags could be ended as soon as enough of us cooperate to do so.
Both Jan Lundberg and I agree that a saner society of the future would feature less work for individuals. For two centuries, workers have struggled to take advantage of constantly increasing productivity by distributing work to all who could use it by means of shorter hours, but, since the '30's, have been prevented from doing so by government policies that assure overwork, over-production, unreasonably long hours, consumerism, high rates of population growth, an overstressed environment, high profits, low wages, and lots of wasted effort. While competing for diminishing opportunities to deliver 98% of new wealth to the upper 20%, the lower 80% race each other to the bottom for bits and pieces of their measly 2% class share.
Generating a mass movement to take better care of the environment will require a program that will simultaneously take care of both the environment and the masses. Shorter hours, higher overtime premiums and other means of making labor scarce can take care of both. Less work - and eventually even 'no work' - will become mandatory as the inevitable march of the robots makes human labor totally redundant in another century. Lundberg charged that I advocate using technology and labor to create gushing abundances of commodities, but I wonder what I wrote that could be interpreted that way.
With regard to a critique of my recently published articles, Jan Lundberg is to be commended for understanding that a saner society of the future would not work as many hours as we do at present. In spite of being on the right track in that regard, Lundberg claimed that I 'believe in work, productivity, and everyone having plenty of stuff', but the extent of my belief about productivity is that it is constantly increasing. The only condition under which I could be tempted to become a religious believer in productivity would be if constant gains were automatically compensated by instant reductions in the amount of time that we work, precisely in order to prevent over-exploitation of natural resources and the environment, exacerbation of class differences, explosive population growth, and to enable workers' control and increasing freedom for producers of useful commodities and services.
In spite of my written record on these issues, I was amazed to find myself accused of 'nudging people in a dangerous direction', as though proceeding in the direction of less work, which we both believe in, were not good enough a reason for us to collaborate.
Fixing our problems with a new economic system to be known as 'bioregional-based subsistence' sounded wonderful to me, but, if the new economic system will be at all based upon changing property relations, there may be a hard row to hoe, for, if it took a Civil War to abolish as unpopular a form of property ownership as slavery, then enlisting the services of everyone whom Lundberg knows, or would like to know, may not suffice to change ownership of much else, so precious are the principles and privileges of private property to 'the man on the street'.
Though exploiters would certainly like to see work-time maximized, the amount that we allow one another to work is not as absolute a principle as is property ownership. Until we adopt the philosophy that 'too much work for me means too little work for my brothers and sisters', we will remain in the grips of a dog-eat-dog philosophy of cutthroat competition that may have enabled societies of the past to prosper and triumph, but has since been superannuated by unprecedented levels of productivity, the result of which goes mainly to the rich. 98% of new wealth accrues to the upper 20%, while the lower 80% mindlessly 'race each other to the bottom' for bits of their measly 2% class share.
Billions of people all over the world feel as if no one gives a damn about anyone but themselves, because everyone is allowed to compete for scarce jobs. Remove this state of desolation by adopting reasonable measures to cut down on wasteful competition for jobs, and people will begin to give a damn, not only about themselves, but about everything else on the planet as well.
Maintain the attitude that, if work is good, then more work would be better.
Become a workaholic.
Decry the burden of overtime premiums on bosses' profits.
Support bosses' efforts to eliminate overtime pay, both in California and nationally.
Lament bosses having to pay for holidays and vacations.
Advocate retirement with full benefits at 75 instead of 65.
Advocate a return to child labor.
Advocate the repeal of maternity and family leave acts.
Support the bosses' efforts to keep the unions out of the workplace.
Don't support union activities.
Be totally inactive in your union.
Think for a moment of all of the issues that the left works on, and think about how our solutions relate to our problems, minus one.
When it comes to discrimination against women and people of color, many on the left prescribe affirmative action for the oppressed groups.
As for pollution, we many times advocate 'prevention as the first measure', or else punishment to discourage future offenses.
When it comes to overcutting of forests, we advocate less cutting, more sustainable cutting, or none at all.
We work hard to get justice for political prisoners, and to prevent prisons from being such hell-holes.
In other words, in a great deal of our work, we oppose or resist the actions of the government and corporations, with one main exception, because none of us know what to do, or, if we have an idea, we have too many ideas, and every group has different answers about what to do about unemployment and poverty. When it comes to those issues, the answer is not so simple for those who are not on the front lines of labor struggles. It may sometimes appear that there is nothing to oppose or resist, so we often find as many answers to those problems as there are leftists and liberals. While welfare cutbacks can often be resisted by sitting in at the welfare office, once the action has been accomplished, and welfare payments have stabilized, and people have learned to live with even less money than ever before, activists end up going home unhappy, because there is no long-term coherent policy for us all to follow.
Some want to tax the rich and redistribute the cash or benefits to the lower classes, or else want to use the cash to create jobs. The problem with those solutions is that they have been tried, and there is little more political will to do very much more of the same.
Others want a revolution to create a proletarian dictatorship that will redistribute property and wealth. The problem with that is that it is based upon having lots of force at one's disposal, force that was available only after overthrowing monarchies in backward countries, or after liberating colonies, but was never possible after workers' parties won mere elections in Western European democracies, so that is out as well, for it belongs to the past, and to less-developed countries.
Still others want a revolution to abolish the state so that workers' organizations can carry on a classless, stateless administration of things, but the problem with that is that it too relies upon having the kind of force that simply cannot be gathered up in this country, nor anywhere else in the democratic West, for private property has become such a principle in this country that deciding upon a line beyond which people will or will not be expropriated will never be able to be decided.
Beyond resisting California's Industrial Welfare Commission's ruling (to be implemented the first of next year) to scrap time and a half after 8, and double time after 12 hours of work per day, it can seem as though there is little to oppose or resist, as productivity will not cease to increase, in spite of the preferences of a few Luddites.
It would be a welcome change to look upon the issue from the perspective that we are 40 times more productive than we were 200 years ago, so there simply is no big reason for us to work so hard anymore. We should learn to share what little work that has yet to be taken over by computers and machines, and simply resign ourselves to allowing the machines to do the work. At the very same time, we need to start to think about those who are less prepared to compete in a glutted labor market for decreasing opportunities to make the rich richer and the government more powerful. Thinking about others will entail 'job conservation' by making overtime and overwork much more expensive to the bosses than what it presently is so that others will have at least a fighting chance to get any work at all. In other words, it is absolutely stupid for any of us to work overtime as long as there are others who could use some work but can not find it. If, after abolishing overwork, there are still some who can't find it, it wouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that there would be a lot more seven-hour jobs than eight-hour jobs, and that we can always shave as much off the work-week as would put everyone to work. We could also eliminate all exceptions to workers falling under the purview of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and reverse the rulings that keep workers from retiring at age 65. We could also add more paid holidays and require a minimum paid month's vacation. In other words, get labor off the labor market so that anyone who wants a job can have one, which will eliminate low wages caused by competition for scarce jobs, and will enable the kind of worker's control that is prevented by job insecurity.
We have no excuse for not doing all of the above except for our muddle-headedness over an issue that is at least a little more complicated than simply opposing clearcuts or welfare cutbacks. A little reflection would enable people to see that creating an artificial shortage of labor sufficient to put everyone to work is a key issue to human progress, and will play an increasing role in the next century as the robots and computers displace ever more human labor, and condemn many more of us to lives of degrading subservience to the state or to handouts of all sorts.
August 22, 1997
One economic interest of the rich is to get the working class to work as productively as possible for as many hours as possible, and to improve productivity by introducing ever more efficient labor-saving technology. Before the introduction of machinery not very long ago, human labor was mostly about producing necessities of life; but, as the result of increased efficiency, producing necessities occupies a smaller percentage of work-time than ever before in history, from 90% down to 10% in just 200 years. Future generations can never witness such a dramatic turnabout in the proportion of surplus to necessary labor.
Because lower-strata workers often receive not much more than necessities, the product of labor accrues in increasing proportion to capital, the upper 20% of the population now acquiring 98% of new wealth, leaving the bottom 80% with only 2%. The economic interests of workers consists of unity to eliminate degrading competition for diminishing opportunities to make the rich richer and the government more powerful, and to stop the race to the bottom.
What will the economy look like a century from now, when complete replacement of human physical labor by robots has been predicted? Will workers ever unite to create an artificial shortage of labor that would enable every one of them to get decent, good paying jobs with workers' control of the economy? Or, will workers never make themselves aware that what little work that remains for humans to do could and should be more equitably shared until it's no longer necessary to go to work?
September 20, 1997
Committee for a Shorter Work Week
Leaflet language to be considered:
Both are titles to recent books reflecting some of society's toughest choices, and around which ignorance and disinformation everywhere abound. It's little wonder that, for the past 60 years, workers have not been able to take increases in productivity in the form of shorter hours, and instead find themselves competing over diminishing 40-hour opportunities to make the rich richer, and the government more oppressive, as in yet more prisons and police.
What can you do? Share the Work is trying to end unemployment by getting communities to impose stricter labor standards that will help to distribute work more equitably among all who can use some. Many people are aware that more people could use work than what there are 8 hour jobs to supply to them. It's only fair for us to see that everyone has a chance to become a partner in the economy, and we can do this only by reversing national policy that dictates certain 'acceptable' levels of unemployment, but, the question is, acceptable to whom?
National policy ensures a certain amount of unemployment to maintain a glut of labor on the labor market to force desperate workers do anything they are asked to do, and for what little wages that are offered to them. Millions of lower-paid workers usually remain at their jobs, lest others step in to take their places. By keeping wages low through competition for scarce jobs, businesses are simultaneously kept profitable, as evidenced by a long-standing general upswing in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
Do you think that it's very fair for Pac Bell workers to have to work 60 hours per week, while many on the sidelines could use a little work to get by, but can't find any, and are therefore forced to eke out livings by less than palatable means? And while government continues to cut back on welfare, food stamps, health care, and other services? The government cannot - or refuses - to take up the slack in the social safety net, leaving us to rediscover a means to achieve social justice that was implemented many times during the preceding century, but was abandoned after the Depression of the '30's.
If government agencies were able to track unemployment increases by handing out benefits to all who could use some, there would be little need for those at the bottom to turn to their own devices. Before the rise of the welfare state, relatively low rates of unemployment were maintained by means of sharing work through shorter hours. The movement included fights for the eight-hour day and the five-day week, which were finally codified into 'time and a half after 40' by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.
Since then, workers have taken productivity increases in the forms of company-paid health care plans and other benefits, but not in greater leisure. In fact, full-timers now work more hours than they did in the '60's. This is silly and stupid, since there was a time at the beginning of this country's history when 90% of work was associated with production of necessities like food, clothing and shelter, a figure that has shrunk down to 10% in recent times. Similarly, it once took 80% of the people to produce all of the food that people then depended upon, while today it takes only 2%, thanks to the mechanization of agriculture.
So, why are people working so much? And, why aren't more people advocating the shorter-hour solution to degrading welfare and unemployment for the able-bodied?
One reason is that society has an awful amount of inertia to overcome before it implements truly intelligent solutions to social problems. Another reason is that it pays the very rich to take advantage of workers' competition for scarce jobs that forces them to accept low-paying jobs for less than sustainable wage levels. In this manner, bosses have us competing for scarce opportunities to do truly horrendous things, such as building land mines, cutting down the last of the redwoods, etc. Workers who recognize the immorality of much of what we do, but who would rather do other things, find themselves chained to jobs that they would rather not do.
It also pays to fund propaganda mills to forever whine about poverty and crime without putting forth a real people's agenda of sharing what little work that has yet to be taken over by machines. At some point, the stupidity of our present policies becomes so glaringly obvious as to guide more and more of us to accept more sensible policies. People are less willing to fulfill the unwritten agenda of making things better for the upper classes at the expense of those at the bottom, and are less willing to become a cog in the machine of exacerbating massive social problems.
If you would like to be part of a grass-roots effort to see that work gets more equitably distributed for as long as it's necessary for people to go to work, then join us in our efforts. A 35-hour week for 40 hours pay would provide 12.5% more jobs, especially if enforced by a double time overtime premium instead of mere time and a half. The reason why many people work 60 hours and more is that time and a half is no longer a sufficient disincentive to keeping people working for more than 40 hours, which prevents many people from enjoying a fuller quality life.
A long time ago it was promised that the marvelous machines that we build will free us from drudgery, but instead they are used to ensure higher and higher profits to those who own land and industries, as testified by the fact that the upper 20% receive 98% of new wealth, leaving the bottom 80% to get by with only 2%. Instead of trying to redistribute wealth by means of taxing and spending, Share the Work feels that the best way to redistribute wealth to all who could use a little is to redistribute work to all who can use some. It is basically unfair for some to work more than 40 hours while many others cannot find enough to ensure adequate standards of living.
Less work and higher overtime premiums are the most efficient answers to these social problems, and if these solutions make sense to you as well, we urge you to sign the petition form, and do what you can to distribute petition forms to others for their signatures and support. Through your support and assistance, you can help abolish beliefs that the poor are poor because they want to be, or because they are inferior, lazy, or no good. The fact that maintenance of various levels of unemployment is our national policy proves that the blame for unemployment cannot be lain entirely at the feet of the poor.
It is also important for us to reaffirm stricter labor standards by maintaining California's time and a half after 8, and double time after 12 hours per day. We should not stand idly by while Governor Pete Wilson's hand-picked Industrial Welfare Commission worsens competition for scarce 8 hour jobs by scaling back protections to the weaker national standard of time and a half after 40 hours per week, beginning in 1998. We can discourage overwork sensibly and simply by making it more expensive to employers.
Join us now! For more than long enough, social problems have been bad enough for us to finally start doing something real. This is not a 'radical' movement! Well before Marx was born, people in the USA, acting out of compassion for the unemployed in their communities, went out on strike in order to share work, and continuously won shorter hours for more than a century! So much so, that, by the 1920's, bosses feared that 'the end of work' was near, and, with the end of work, the end of profits as well! Instead, we seem to have temporarily gotten stuck with 'work without end', but that foolishness can be reversed with the help of everyone who has had enough of 'too much'.
Do what you can to help financially. It will cost a minimum of $200 to put a measure on the ballot, and more than that to keep the community fully informed of developments in the struggle to Share the Work.
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November 28, 1998
Recent local layoffs betray job insecurity. Most discussions about unemployment are disappointing. Their banalities are often based on its alleged permanence, as if it were an ineradicable plague. Meanwhile, due to private agendas, most people in the know sidestep opportunities to raise consciousness, so accordingly do the unemployed no more good than those who can't do any more about it than cry.
In reality, little mystery exists about how to eradicate unemployment, for scratching the surface of available literature reveals that everyone could 'easily' be put to work by us all merely determining to share what little work that remains for human beings to do, i.e., what little work that has yet to be taken over by machines and computers. If not enough 40-hour jobs exist to satisfy the demand for them, the Fair Labor Standards Act could 'easily' be amended to provide more people with 35 or 30-hour jobs, or whatever it takes to put everyone to work. This is not a 'radical' solution to unemployment woes, for all it requires is a simple amendment to the Act. But, the upper classes would be bound to scream 'Murder!'. They won't tell you that murder of profits is what they are most worried about, for they will complain of dozens of other things. As usual, our society unwittingly aids and abets putting profits before people as we all listen to spurious arguments that mystifies the economy, which complicates and retards the struggle for social justice.
Shorter hours may be the sine qua non, but other mechanisms for distributing work are popular in other countries. As many Europeans already enjoy, we also could legislate month-or-more long annual vacations and earlier retirement. Norway's recent example of lowering their retirement age from 65 to 64 should put the American government to shame for its ridiculously short-sighted plans to raise retirement ages for future generations. A government driven by the interests of the rich sneers at arguments that the working population should be allowed to work less, and to worry less about it, for it is in the interests of the rich for the lowest classes to knock themselves out in their competition among themselves to make the rich richer yet.
Earlier, 'easily' was put in quotes to deliberately invoke doubt that the powerful rich will be charitable in their dealings with the lowest classes. The rich, whose example most of us deferentially follow, know that it is better for their finances if the poor are allowed to continue to fight among themselves over diminishing numbers of 40-hour opportunities to make the rich richer and the government more powerful, as in jailing those who give up competing with others to make the rich richer, and resort to less licit means of getting by. And what is the government's response to actual increases in unemployment? Little more than to continually redefine it to make it more difficult for the poor to be included in that category. The rich and the government are leading the whole population in race to be increasingly cruel to the poor and disrespectful of their needs.
Why does unemployment continually tend to increase, unless continually counteracted by government and industrial policies? In industrialized Western countries, constant improvements in productive capacities enable workers to spend less and less time creating necessities of life like food, clothing and shelter. This development enabled people in the last century to pare off the portion of the day spent working, in favor of increasingly greater leisure time. Not very many fought this trend during the 1800's, but, by the time the 1920's rolled around, the business community had had it up to their ears with the resulting decreased output resulting from increased leisure time for workers, so determined to put an end to the economy's natural and humane response to increases in productivity. Labor leaders reacted by warning the nation that the inevitable boom in production would result in a bust if the goods could not be sold, but it took the 1930's Depression to get the government to finally pass the Fair Labor Standards Act that established a time-and-a-half penalty for working people beyond 40 hours per week, which helped people share the work at least a little more equitably.
Because the length of the work week has remained relatively stable for the last 60 years, workers consequently spend more and more time creating goods and services unrelated to basic necessities. At the time of our nation's birth over 200 years ago, providing the basics occupied the bulk of the people's energies. How times change - for food, clothing and shelter now absorb the energies of only a minority of us. As machines and computers become even smarter, the number of those in the year 2100 who will work to produce necessities should be very close to zero, startlingly enough.
So, what then will be the meaning of work in the future, compared to what it was 200 years ago? And why are so many people now working so hard, and why are so many working more than one job? And why for less than a living wage?. Since the birth of the phenomenon known as wage labor, lucky and smart workers out-competed others in the job market, who could always scratch out a living raising crops. Nowadays, however, people don't have access to land like they used to, so, rather than let them starve, they rely upon friends, relatives, charity, and now, more than ever before, the government.
Because we are don't allow ourselves to reap the benefit of productivity increases in the form of diminished work loads, this leads to the production of pure waste on an increasing scale. Examples are numerous, such as the burgeoning security industry.
Because not everyone can find jobs for themselves, they consequently suffer from the demonization of a society that perpetuates their poverty, unconsciously or consciously, because society does not yet know enough to ensure that work is equitably shared among all members who require work for their survival or well-being.
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