(OPE-L) Re: the _struggle_ over the length of the working day

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Fri Jun 13 2003 - 10:23:08 EDT

Re: (OPE-L) Re: the _struggle_ over the length of theRe Rakesh's post dated Thursday, June 12:

> What happens if the struggle to reduce the working day derives 
> from the attempt to defend one's immediate health or one's 
> ability to show up to work consistently enough that she is not fired? 
> Wouldn't that be a defensive battle? 

There are, of course, health consequences of working 'overtime'
(there are studies which show that more injuries on the job occur
in industry during the 9th hour of  the working day, due to fatigue,  
then in all of the preceding 8 hours.)  This, though, is typically
_not_ the genesis of struggles over the length of the working day.
Even without additional occupational injuries, workers have fought 
for a reduction in the work day and the working week for _their_
reasons.  To only view struggles over the working day as "defensive"
is not only inaccurate historically but also -- and this is the point 
I  have been trying to make -- represents (as Michael E might say) 
an ontolological failure in that it fails to grasp this phenomena in its 
manifold aspects.

>  And what if capitalists found out that they could actually sweat 
> more surplus labor time out of replenished working class in a 
> shorter working day?

You are losing sight of the forest in concentrating on the details
of some isolated trees.  It is, of course, the case that fatigue not
only leads to an increase in industrial accidents but can lead
to decreases in productivity, especially  where there are jobs which
require mental concentration on the part of workers.  Fatigue, beyond
a certain point, becomes inefficient and decreases the productivity 
of labor (this forms one of the barriers to the extension of absolute
surplus value).  Yet, as they are _struggles_ to decrease the length
of the working day, the initiative to decrease the length of the 
working day comes from workers: it represents _their_ demand.

> Perhaps the more interesting question concerns what we are to 
> make of France's recent reduction of the working week. But 
> wasn't the struggle here motivated (at least as we were told) to 
> reduce the risk which any one individual faced of unemployment? 

Yes, many _recent_ struggles over the length of the working day
and the length of the workweek represent initiatives undertaken by
unions to preserve jobs in the presence of increasing unemployment.
Often,  these unions explicitly make the connection that in the face
of increasing unemployment brought about by technological change
there need to be reductions in hours of work as a means of 
preserving the level of employment.  

Yet, there have also been many struggles for decreases in the length 
of the working day that have occurred during *expansionary* periods when
there were rising wages and employment.  The motivation for these 
struggles is usually easily determined and is grasped by the workers
who are involved in these struggles.  They don't have to comprehend
the relation between technological change, employment, and hours
of work to understand the advantages for them of additional *leisure*
time: they want, as the contemporary saying goes, to "get a life" --
no alien party has to tell them this.

> I don't see what's wrong with a one sided conception of most struggles 
> to reduce the working day as 'defensive', though I'll grant that this would 
> not be the best characterization in 99 out of 100 cases.

What is wrong is that it views these struggles one-sidedly. 

Previously I wrote:

> Related struggles by workers -- e.g. for increased vacation time per
> year, for pension plans, for early retirement, etc. -- which are fought
> either through the collective bargaining process or as social movements
> which demand public entitlements by the state can also not be
> comprehended merely as defensive "reactions" to the "previous
> action" and "encroachments of capital."    To treat such struggles
> as if they were in general struggles against "givebacks" is, once
> again, to miss the concrete goal that workers are struggling *for*. 

Rakesh asked:

> But why aren't these defensive struggles to ensure that the wage 
> (direct and social) does not fall below the value of labor power?

If you keep the phenomena itself in sight, rather than focusing on 
Marx, you will see why this is not the case.

Let us consider each of the "related struggles" I listed above:

1) struggles for increased vacation time per year:  once can see
historically that these are movements which seek to *extend*
vacation time for workers over customary standards.  They thus
represent an "offensive" struggle in the sense that they seek an
entitlement that they previously did not have in that society. 
If anything, this could change -- increase -- over time the VLP
rather than ensure that the wage doesn't fall below the VLP.

2) struggles for pension plans are also attempts by workers 
to _extend_ their entitlements and are thus "offensive" in nature.
One has to remember that the logic and history of capital
does not require that workers be given this entitlement.  
What comes to happen is that workers come to believe that
what capital and the state told them was their own concern
(i.e. that workers had to provide for their own retirement
out of their savings or depend on the charity of family members 
or other non-governmental, non-corporate institutions) should
become a _right_.  Workers then fought for this right either
through the collective bargaining process  and/or through initiating
social reform movements.  This movement can not be grasped
historically or logically as a "defensive" struggle -- it represents
an offensive *initiative* by the working class.  Over time, this can
mean not that wages don't fall below the VLP, but that the VLP
itself can rise.

3) struggles for early retirement.  *Why* do workers struggle for
early retirement?  What do they want to do with their lives
following retirement?   Clearly, these are struggles by workers
-- like struggles over the length of the working day -- to extend 
the amount of *non-working time*  in their lives.  (NB: generally,
struggles by workers for pension plans and early retirement
are connected.)  These struggles are by no stretch of the 
imagination primarily "defensive" in nature.  E.g. if the "customary"
age for retirement in a particular social formation is lowered -- 
as a result of class struggle, from 70 to 60 then this represents 
a _gain_ for workers rather than merely a successful struggle
against an initiative of capital.  

In solidarity, Jerry

PS:  There _are_  *other*  struggles which are initiated as a 
reaction to the "encroachments of capital" -- e.g.  struggles
over the intensity of labor are almost always initiated after
capital attempts to "speed-up" workers.  The struggle then
by workers to decrease labor intensity to 'customary',  prior,
standards could be seen as being primarily defensive.
Thus, capital 'initiates' some struggles; workers 'initiate' other

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