Spinning out profit

Overwork and stress are affecting all sections of society

THE WORKING class is exploited - official. A new study, Time and Money, from the Henley Centre for Forecasting, graphically illustrates how the bosses are squeezing more and more hours out of workers, as it becomes increasingly difficult to make a ‘decent’ profit.

British working hours are now the longest in Europe, with a quarter of all male employees working more than 48 hours a week, a fifth of all manual workers working more than 50 hours and one in eight managers working more than 60 hours.

Revealingly, Britain’s average working week is now 43.4 hours, compared with a European average of 40.3, and Britain was one of only two countries in the European Union - the other is Ireland - where work hours lengthened in the 1980s, thus reversing the previous decline in the working week. Time off work with stress-related illnesses has increased by 500 percent since the 1950s.

Time and Money bleakly, though accurately no doubt, predicts that working hours will go on lengthening and that free time will diminish for the remainder of the 1990s, falling over the next five years from 39% to 36% of total time. If the bosses could somehow reduce free time to zero through the invention of some miraculous ‘work drug’ then they would.

The recent rapid entry of women into the workforce is an important factor in shaping these changes in work and leisure patterns, as they have to cope with employment, housework and child care; this leaves full-time working women with 14 hours less free time than full-time men, as they have to shoulder a disproportionate burden of the child care and housework duties.

This is not a phenomenon confined to Britain. In America, for instance, the average employed person now works the equivalent of one month more a year than in the 1970s. It has been estimated that ten thousand people in Japan die each year from overwork.

The new “post-industrial culture” - with its buzzing information super-highways, flexi-time working and dreams of every home linked up to the internet - is turning into its very opposite. Demos, the unattached think-tank and bastard son of Marxism Today, makes exactly this point in the latest issue of Demos Quarterly (June): “But far from ushering in a leisured utopia, its most immediate effect has been a growing divide between those with too much work and those without any.”

To rectify this imbalance Demos pins its hopes on ‘enlightened’ employers who will benignly “offer time off to recharge the batteries, to learn a new skill or just to travel the world”. All that is needed is “the right funding arrangement.”

Those of us living in the real world know that mass unemployment and chronic job insecurity is dragooning the entire working class, and even a significant section of the ‘professional’ middle-class, turning them into a slave class. The permanent pool of unemployed acts a ‘gravitational’ force, constantly pulling them downwards into the ‘black hole’ of near super-exploitation.

Technological advances and innovations have only enhanced this process, as more workers are deemed ‘surplus’ to requirements and tossed onto the scrapheap. Science under capitalism acts as a dehumanising force, not as a liberating agency.

One of the male manual workers interviewed in the Time and Money study notes, “I’ve no social life; I’m too knackered. I work and then it’s to bed. That’s all.”

The ‘hopelessly outdated’ and ‘dogmatic’ Karl Marx - well, according to Demos anyway - observed in 1847 that the worker

“works in order to live. He does not even reckon labour as part of his life; it is rather a sacrifice of his life...If the silk worm were to spin in order to continue its existence as a caterpillar, it would be a complete wage-worker.”

We must fight the system which wants to turn us all into “caterpillars”, denying us our individual potential and our very humanity.

Frank Vincent