Freedom From Toil
October 4, 2019 9:56 AM   Subscribe

“Long hours are not coincidental, not choices made by people who simply love their jobs. Nor are they inevitable. They are the result of the drive toward more profit, wrung out of workers who produce ever more, yet receive less pay for their efforts. The lessons of the shorter-hours movements of centuries and decades past are still deeply relevant, and are being revived for a new time.” The Four-Day Work Week—Not Just a Daydream (The Progressive) Labour commits to 32-hour working week within a decade (The Independent) A Shorter Work Week Without Drop In Pay : A Radical and Pragmatic Proposal. (Previously: Who Stole The Four Day Week?)
posted by The Whelk (49 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
The idea that working longer hours increases productivity is one of those things that drives me insane. For many positions, the number or hours you work does directly affect what gets done, of course, but the efficiency, preciseness, and quality of the work always suffers if you're working exhausted.
posted by xingcat at 10:41 AM on October 4, 2019 [9 favorites]


I'm fortunate enough to work at a place that has RDO alternate fridays, and I've been there long enough that I have a large amount of vacation accrual per year. In a year where I don't go take a vacation for a week or two, between judicious vacation hour usage and the RDOs, I can end up taking *almost* every Friday off.

As far as I can tell, and as I've never heard boo from any coworkers or bosses, having effectively 4-day weeks most of the time hasn't impacted my gross productivity or value-add to my projects.

I'm in an extremely fortunate situation and don't take it for granted. Everyone should be able to work 4 day weeks AND take vacations (I basically give vacations up in exchange most years, and am OK with that). Let's stop pretending that productivity is linear with time, and get over the bullshit Calvinist contamination of our work culture.
posted by tclark at 10:49 AM on October 4, 2019 [5 favorites]


Let's stop pretending that productivity is linear with time

I mean, for white collar jobs it isn't. But for lots of blue collar and other low-wage jobs, it really is.

I work as a coffee roaster; the hours I directly work are linked to products created. There's no speeding it up. It happens on a very fixed timeline. Lots of low-paid, high-labor jobs are like this, and lots of "four day work week" proposals just assume that there's bullshit paperwork and unecessary work each week that doesn't need to be done. If an hour of work is missed, in some industries, the productivity is also missed. Productivity and working hours are not entirely decoupled in every industry.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:59 AM on October 4, 2019 [28 favorites]


I don't disagree with your general point, but manual labor productivity also tends to have a sharp drop off after 6 hours in a given day, not due to "things taking a certain amount of time" but due to the sharp increases in re-work that needs to be done to correct errors that are more frequent in the latter portion of 8+ hour shifts. Perhaps in those cases a 32-hour four day week is less useful than a 30-hour five day week.
posted by tclark at 11:04 AM on October 4, 2019 [18 favorites]


There’s plenty of white collar jobs where extra hours means extra productivity. I worked in advertising for 20 years. They’d give everyone workload enough for two people and you’d be in meetings all day. People are in line for jobs like that. 50-60 hour work week s were common. Some places were 60+ on average. I had enough and now I’m trying to change careers. It’s not easy at 48.

Leaving vacation on the table was common. Many wore it like a badge of honor and pride.

But this “omg too many hours = less work” is largely false.
posted by SoberHighland at 11:24 AM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


> If an hour of work is missed, in some industries, the productivity is also missed. Productivity and working hours are not entirely decoupled in every industry.

but also productivity is chiefly a measure of rate of exploitation. reducing the work week either through shortening the working day or through expanding the weekend (or ideally through both) is an effective material measure to reduce productivity and exploitation, and thereby win space for people to pursue our own concerns and our own interests.

what we do during the work week largely benefits the ownership class/caste, with only a few scraps falling to us the workers. liberating friday gives us more opportunity to do things that actually benefit us
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:27 AM on October 4, 2019 [27 favorites]


I'm not saying that I disagree that we shouldn't be moving towards a 32hr work week, but that it's far more complicated policy wise for certain industries, and these industries tend to be working/lower class jobs. It just appears that most white-collar work has lots of built in downtime that can easily be ignored and productivity is retained to a large degree; I don't think that's as cut an dry as it is for certain industries.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:36 AM on October 4, 2019 [3 favorites]


I can't help but think that in the hourly wage world, a 4 day work week becomes the age of "everyone takes a second job". 4 day work week for salaried workers is great, 4 day work week for hourly earners is a grim proposal.
posted by Philipschall at 11:40 AM on October 4, 2019 [9 favorites]


At least in the US, a 40 hour work week doesn't mean companies are forbidden from requiring that people work more, only that employees get compensated with overtime pay for hours in excess of that 40.

It sure doesn't stop a lot of blue collar jobs from having 50 hour work weeks lots of weeks in lieu of hiring more people. If you lowered that number from 40 to 32, then you'd be getting the workers more pay at least, if not a shorter work week. And you'd probably get at least a couple places to hire enough people to actually staff a 40 hour work week properly. Job creation.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:41 AM on October 4, 2019 [5 favorites]


raise the minimum wage to maintain constant minimum pay as the work week contracts, and/or institute direct state subsidies to offset reduced pay from capitalists. the reason of course that we can’t do this has less to do with a lack of societal resources and more to do with the state serving the interests of those who own it.

it is noteworthy, though, that the objections raised by opponents of the reduction of the working week are precisely the objections raised by the 19th century capitalists in opposition to the reduction of the working day from 16 hours to 12 hours, and in opposition to the end of the practice of child labor. then and now, those opposed to us reclaiming our time argue that with lessened exploitation profitability will be impossible.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:46 AM on October 4, 2019 [23 favorites]


Funding problems reduced me to a 32-hour work week (at a decent salary nonetheless with full benefits). It is--hands down--the best thing that happened in my adult life and my work projects are just as successful as the 40-hour-week funded ones.

But for non-office non-salaried jobs, as this conversation is clearly saying, it's more complicated. But I'd suggest it's even more important. I use my "extra" 8 hours for appointment, errands, volunteering, hobbies, connecting with friends but I also use it caring for family members. Thing is, as a salaried worker, I never had to worry about taking two hours midday to run to the doctor. Or leave a little early to provide gap child care. Or work from my aged parents' house for a couple days when they needed me.

I don't know how to give hourly or shift workers or nurses or teachers or anyone with a "your job is in this room and this room only for these hours, start to finish" the sort of freedom to be both people and workers. But another day per week at liberty, without loss in wages or benefits, seems a good place to start.
posted by crush at 11:57 AM on October 4, 2019 [17 favorites]


I suppose a related question is, what's the ideal number of days per week for children to go to school? Would education suffer if they were only in class 4 days per week? Would teachers work 5 days, or work 4 and rotate?
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 12:11 PM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


I have a four day work week!

At my first job. Then I have a three day week at my other one.
posted by nevercalm at 12:27 PM on October 4, 2019 [5 favorites]


I suppose a related question is, what's the ideal number of days per week for children to go to school? Would education suffer if they were only in class 4 days per week? Would teachers work 5 days, or work 4 and rotate?

Children's school days are determined by working hours, not the other way around.

Kids would learn more if every day were a half day and they had recess all afternoon.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:29 PM on October 4, 2019 [6 favorites]


There’s plenty of white collar jobs where extra hours means extra productivity. I worked in advertising for 20 years. They’d give everyone workload enough for two people and you’d be in meetings all day. People are in line for jobs like that. 50-60 hour work week s were common. Some places were 60+ on average. I had enough and now I’m trying to change careers. It’s not easy at 48.

Leaving vacation on the table was common. Many wore it like a badge of honor and pride.


Sure but I'd say businesses that aren't sustainable without the exploitation of employees shouldn't really weigh heavily into discussions of how labor should be.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:29 PM on October 4, 2019 [12 favorites]


> I don't know how to give hourly or shift workers or nurses or teachers or anyone with a "your job is in this room and this room only for these hours, start to finish" the sort of freedom to be both people and workers. But another day per week at liberty, without loss in wages or benefits, seems a good place to start.

though also the framing about “giving” people liberty is not exactly right. liberty worth the name is taken, not given.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:31 PM on October 4, 2019 [7 favorites]


Leaving vacation on the table was common. Many wore it like a badge of honor and pride.

This sounds like all the more convincing an argument in favor of the four-day workweek, in order to drive home the message that "taking some time for your home life is something you should be doing".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:34 PM on October 4, 2019 [9 favorites]


There are several problems with shortening the work week. First, many people would resist any concomitant reduction in pay, and, in fact, there would be an increase in the servile tendency to offer up one’s leisure in hopes of currying favour with employers. Second, most people would not use the time for self-improvement, but would fritter it away on still more self-indulgent distractions (which, however, they would have less ability to afford, leading to higher debt loads). The forty-hour work week is in itself socialism’s greatest victory, and the only truly necessary pre-condition for making progress toward the general improvement of mankind. Socialists should concentrate on getting people to use the time they currently have more wisely.
posted by No Robots at 12:53 PM on October 4, 2019


My comment about advertising was simply an illustration of how things are regarding productivity. It's a standard of many industries, more or less. And I'm not talking about just high end six figure jobs, either. And it's not just places making ads for the Super Bowl. It's endemic and its in many, many fields. Architecture, design, advertising, and all the related fields that work with these businesses.

In lots of cases, productivity is less easy to quantify. Hell, we currently have a 5 day work week, but that means little or nothing in some vocations. Answering emails at home all night or at the grocery store is the norm. Losing a Saturday or Sunday is common. Cancelling vacation plans is less common, but it happens.

I'm all for a 4 day work week. My point is that instituting a 4 day work week will never happen in a society that is structured like ours is now, or the fewer number of days will be exploited in other ways. Especially because work (in many cases) can be done anywhere at any time now.

Ever hear of those "unlimited PTO days" gigs? Often doesn't work out so well in practice.

And as mentioned upthread, fewer work days will be all the more reason for justifying and expanding the "gig economy." Why work one job, or even two, when now you have time for three?
posted by SoberHighland at 12:57 PM on October 4, 2019


Second, most people would not use the time for self-improvement, but would fritter it away on still more self-indulgent distractions (which, however, they would have less ability to afford, leading to higher debt loads).

It may not be your intent but that comes across suuuper paternalistic. It's free time, it's theirs.
posted by jason_steakums at 1:00 PM on October 4, 2019 [51 favorites]


Second, most people would not use the time for self-improvement, but would fritter it away on still more self-indulgent distractions (which, however, they would have less ability to afford, leading to higher debt loads)

the tendency of employers, policymakers, and people who write comments like this one to position themselves as World's Dad is not a problem with shortening the work week. rather it is a problem with an educational and cultural system that has led great numbers of people to sincerely believe that World's Dad is a real position that aspirants ought to constantly and loudly be auditioning for.

tl;dr: employers are not required to improve us when using our time, unless we are interns, and thus neither are we. We have more rights over ourselves than employers do, not fewer.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:02 PM on October 4, 2019 [28 favorites]


The forty-hour work week is in itself socialism’s greatest victory

And it's slowly being whittled away.

Many folks have to work 8-5 or 9-6, because the lunch break is mandatory and unpaid.

Commutes are longer than ever, as well. An "8 hour work day" can easily equate to an 11 hour commitment once lunch hour and an hour's commute is accounted for.

Compare the 55 hours committed to work to the 45 hours that might be required if someone worked 8 hours with a paid half-hour lunch and a 30 minute commute.
posted by explosion at 1:04 PM on October 4, 2019 [11 favorites]


employers are not required to improve us when using our time

Not employers, but socialists should be working to improve people's use of their leisure time. Without coercion, of course.

I'm all for reduced work hours. I'm just saying that pushing for it should not be a priority for socialists.
posted by No Robots at 1:05 PM on October 4, 2019


An "8 hour work day" can easily equate to an 11 hour commitment once lunch hour and an hour's commute is accounted for.

Try 12: my 8 hour work day comes with a two-hour commute each way. In many ways I was much more productive before I got this job.
posted by Devoidoid at 1:09 PM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


No Robots here are several problems with shortening the work week. First, many people would resist any concomitant reduction in pay

I'd assume that any move to a 32 hour work week would, necessarily require a matching 20% increase in pay. No way it could work otherwise.
posted by sotonohito at 1:10 PM on October 4, 2019 [6 favorites]


I'd assume that any move to a 32 hour work week would, necessarily require a matching 20% increase in pay. No way it could work otherwise.

And most employers will not be willing to provide that 20% increase, so it will not work.
posted by No Robots at 1:12 PM on October 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


By that logic no socialist reforms would work, employers won't exactly be raring to go on most any of them.
posted by jason_steakums at 1:15 PM on October 4, 2019 [5 favorites]


I'm really befuddled by your understanding of socialism, No Robots.

Socialism is the use of government policies and programs to increase the quality of life for all. Leisure time is almost off-limits of socialism by definition, as leisure time is what you get to have when all societal obligations are completed.

Increasing leisure time is most easily accomplished by reducing work hours, so it's an easy goal for anyone interested in increasing quality of life. To offset a reduction of work hours, policies like progressive taxation and programs like Universal Basic Income and Universal Health Care can make it so that people can live comfortably with less income. So there's socialism's interest.

Socialists don't give a crap whether someone's leisure time is spent picnicking, swimming, playing World of Warcraft, or the like.
posted by explosion at 1:15 PM on October 4, 2019 [17 favorites]


^Not my socialism, explosion. I won't trouble you with Marx's comments on the fundamental role of leisure as a weapon in social warfare.
posted by No Robots at 1:21 PM on October 4, 2019


Let's say we have a town of perfectly spherical, frictionless, interchangeable workers all making $50,000/year, working 40-hour weeks. The government implements a $10,000 UBI (subsidized by taxes on the wealthy and industry), and also defines overtime to be over 32 hours instead of 40 hours.

Businesses are now incentivized to offer 32-hour, $40K/year jobs, leaving these interchangeable workers still earning $50K/year total, but working fewer hours.

However, as each shift is over-all fewer hours, it now takes more workers to provide full coverage for a factory, store, or restaurant. As such, demand is higher for our workers. That means wages go up, or they start paying overtime. An overtime worker might earn $60k for 40 hours (plus that UBI!), and a non-overtime worker might earn $45K for 32 hours (plus that UBI!).

It's not a matter of asking employers to provide things, but using policy to create incentives so that the market does the work naturally. The money/productivity/resources are there, it's just a matter of how we've societally agreed to distribute them. As soon as we agree (via policy) that capitalists should keep slightly less, the rest of us get to reap some of the rewards of technology.
posted by explosion at 1:24 PM on October 4, 2019 [9 favorites]


reducing the work week either through shortening the working day or through expanding the weekend (or ideally through both) is an effective material measure to reduce productivity and exploitation, and thereby win space for people to pursue our own concerns and our own interests.

Requiring everyone to work the same 40 hrs is my issue with current system. Very tight timelines and low staffing means the Boss wants me available at "standard 8-5/9-6 hours" to address client facing issues but also means I'm doing 50-60 hrs a week as the data for the analysis I actually do doesn't become available until late in the day but usually has a next day TAT. I'd be better off with a noon to 8 pm shift or a split week but that would mean he'd have to reschedule his morning meetings and tell people that I'll call them back later. And a split week or 12-8 shift is also only possible because I have flexibility in my non-work life as well.

TLDR: Increasing staffing to allow a single person to have 4 day work weeks but the team to have overlapping odd and off shifts would better meet my team's needs---but management disagrees.
posted by beaning at 1:25 PM on October 4, 2019 [6 favorites]


Also, please argue in good faith. Using a definition of "socialism" from a 1848 text popularly called "The Communist Manifesto" in 2019 is just fundamentally dishonest. Words change meaning, philosophies evolve.

The socialism people are arguing for now is not Marx's stepping stone to communism.
posted by explosion at 1:27 PM on October 4, 2019 [7 favorites]


Requiring everyone to work the same 40 hrs is my issue with current system.

It's a huge problem that school hours are just slightly off from 9-5 office hours, and doctors' offices, dentists, auto repair shops, post offices, banks, etc. are smack within that 9-5 office hour block. If my dentist would stay open until 8 pm, that would be a dream. Or if the bank opened at 7:30 am instead of 8:30. Or if kids needed to be in school by 9:00 instead of by 7:30. It's all out of alignment and it causes so much frustration, every single week.

I'm actually a little baffled as to why these types of service providers don't adapt a wider range of open hours. Our dogs' vet is open until 11 pm most days, and I can schedule them for a checkup or some vaccines at 8 pm or later--meaning I can work a full, normal workday, be home for dinner, and then take my dog to the vet. It's so great. Their business is booming.
posted by witchen at 1:38 PM on October 4, 2019 [4 favorites]


Second, most people would not use the time for self-improvement
Wait, what? Define self-improvement, please.
posted by haapsane at 1:58 PM on October 4, 2019 [6 favorites]


Eight hours for work
Eight hours for sleep
Eight hours for cooking healthy meals, going to the gym, reading Good Books, and NO NETFLIX EVER you ungrateful plebes
posted by Tess of the d'Urkelvilles at 2:10 PM on October 4, 2019 [34 favorites]


Are we swinging back to "Proper socialism requires temperance/teetotaling" and its counterpart "Onward, Christian Socialists"?

Because I've definitely seen an upswing of that out in the Twitterlands, but if we're bringing that in here I want to know which parties I can dance with.
posted by CrystalDave at 2:25 PM on October 4, 2019 [3 favorites]


iirc no robots filters most of their interpretation of the world through the works of the philosopher harry waton, who as i understand him tried to repurpose marx toward the service of a type of ecstatic mystical theology. needless to say, that’s all well outside of any reasonable discussion of the importance of the reduction of working hours.

that said, it’s probably best to back well away from concepts like “self-improvement,” which aside from being paternalistic are themselves rooted in an understanding of the world that’s rooted in first of all individualism, and second in a type of individualism that instrumentalizes people just as thoroughly as capitalism itself does.

for my part, i agree enthusiastically with the maxim that idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and moreover take the side of the devil in the matter. we don’t need free time to improve ourselves. we need free time to be human, and we need free time to be fully ourselves. we need free time to play cards and care for aging parents and raise children and go on dates and have sex and have orgies and fuck around on the internet and make music and play warcraft and play minecraft and play goose game and write goose game and listen to music and drink beer and brew beer and smoke weed and grow weed and plant gardens and cook food and eat food and drop acid and cook acid and do molly and eat mushrooms. to study math and to study physics and to study literature and to make literature and to do physics and to discover math and to do sociology and to write treatises and monographs and erotica and to watch movies and to make movies and to make music and read books and write books and masturbate and worship gods and build gods, to join religions and found religions and to wander in the woods for days and ride bikes and go hunting and take atvs off-road and go to political rallies and organize and occupy buildings and to write news and make news and to do a thousand other unproductive things.

fuck self-improvement forever and trust no one who thinks they know what you should do with your life. down with the masters and down with the moralistic scolds too.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 3:14 PM on October 4, 2019 [44 favorites]


Look, I don't better myself on my non-work workday, at least not by studying important texts or writing treatises. But I better my life and the lives of people around me by having time to care for family members, having time to tend to household tasks & errands (thus giving leisure back to other members of my household), having time to relax and be more fit for human society.

I also strengthen my family relationships and social connections by having time to spend with people I care about (like, the friend might still need to be at work, but maybe they have time for lunch or coffee and since I have no schedule, I can go to them, rather than trying to meet in the middle, thus giving us time together and them a lunch break! win-win!).

Sometimes, I better my community by patronizing businesses on my block, by volunteering, by attending community meetings.

Sometimes, I just sit quietly. Or read a novel. Or play my piano. Or sew a dress. Or watch a movie.

And, actually, all of this betters my self by allowing me to be a full human, and not merely some worker grist for the mill.
posted by crush at 3:17 PM on October 4, 2019 [10 favorites]


> The socialism people are arguing for now is not Marx's stepping stone to communism.

oh but also: the socialism i am arguing for is marx’s stepping stone to communism. i am pushing for present-day measures in favor of increased material liberty among the working classes, in the interest of providing space and time for organized political activity, in the interest of transferring control over the means of production from the capitalist class to democratically controlled institutions, in the interest of doing the same worldwide, in the interest of abolishing the state as currently understood and replacing it with organs of local control properly understood as anarchist rather than statist.

just making that clear. i believe that one key reason why the ownership classes insist on keeping us working long hours is not just because they want to squeeze the productivity out of us, but also because they fear what we might get up to if we didn’t have their boots on our necks.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:33 PM on October 4, 2019 [12 favorites]


We wouldn’t have to work so much if housing costs were 50% of what they are now.

Just sayin’
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 5:44 PM on October 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


would fritter it away on still more self-indulgent distractions (which, however, they would have less ability to afford, leading to higher debt loads).

Ah, nice to see the colors of paternalistic classicism flying bright and clear; a refreshing break from those who cower behind dog whistles, winks and nods.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:02 PM on October 4, 2019 [8 favorites]


The argument that we can't make things somewhat better because that would prevent us from making things even better than that is a form of accelerationism and I'm not a fan.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 7:26 PM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


The 40 hour work week was predicated on unpaid domestic labor. 8 hours of work, 8 hours of leisure, 8 hours of sleep. And a lovely wife to manage the household.

I don’t understand why we can’t recognize that, and have four hour work days and smaller jobs and larger teams. Labor costs go up. But automation and fewer errors from overwork and national healthcare and lower executive pay and higher smoother consumer spending?

I think there are enough levers to absorb the shock.
posted by politikitty at 12:18 AM on October 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


Looks like I’m going to have to break out good old Karl after all:
As philosophy finds in the proletariat its material weapon, so the proletariat finds in philosophy its spiritual weapon.
Words to live by.

What can be done, though, when the proletariat throws away its spiritual weapon? As expressed by Achille Mbembe:
Experience nowadays trumps reason. We are led to believe that sensibility, emotions, affect, sentiments and feelings are the real stuff of subjecthood and therefore of radical agency. Paradoxically, in the paranoid tenor of our epoch, this is very much in tune with the dominant strictures of neoliberal individualism.
So, go ahead and enjoy your leisure. Or weaponize your leisure. Your choice.
posted by No Robots at 3:01 PM on October 5, 2019


The handwringing about the underclass being unable to decide how to best use their labor has such an unpleasant history, I’m surprised anyone would pick up that dogwhistle.
posted by politikitty at 5:50 PM on October 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


No Robots, every post you make on this topic just convinces me even more that you are spouting dogma without understanding any of it. You certainly aren't cogently responding to any of the points other people are raising.

Moving on: leaders do usually fear the masses, and rightfully so. We don't need to look any farther than the current treatment of unions to see this fear in action today.
posted by Ahniya at 11:31 PM on October 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


It is always thus, history reduced to the funny-papers conundrum joke and response:

"The peasants are revolting!"

1.) Call out the royal guard!
2.) Well, if they bathed more often, and learned a little Greek and Latin ...
posted by Chitownfats at 12:38 AM on October 6, 2019






« Older Declaration of the Establishment of the...   |   Primum Non Nocere Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments