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Exiting the False "Jobs Versus Environment" Dilemma

By Lorenzo Feltrin - ROAR Magazine, November 16, 2020

The workerist environmentalism of Italy’s Porto Marghera group connects the workplace and the community in the struggle against capitalist “noxiousness.”

Amidst the renewed rise of obscene inequalities, a wave of protests is sweeping through Italy, from south to north. On the one hand, the pandemic has engendered an upsurge in workplace disputes to defend health and in mobilizations to protect the income of workers affected by COVID-19-related restrictions. On the other hand, however, we have also witnessed successful interventions coordinated by the right and infused with a bewildering array of conspiracy theories in response to such measures.

Different from the slogan that emerged at a mass demonstration in Naples on October 23, 2020 — “If you lock us down, pay up!” — the right-wing discourse does not ask for more collective and egalitarian forms of prevention. It demands instead that “the economy” be allowed to run smoothly. Nonetheless, the right-wing side of dissent appears to attract a significant working-class presence, as many workers — rightly concerned about the impact of months-long lockdowns on their livelihoods — find an answer in negating the gravity of the pandemic and of the environmental crisis more generally.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Marxist commentators have underlined how the health crisis cannot be separated from the economic system that shapes our lives. This does not just concern inadequate healthcare systems: the very spillover of the novel coronavirus from non-human animals to humans was caused by the capitalist imperative to appropriate natural “resources” to safeguard the profit margins that drive the economy forward.

In a way, the pandemic is a global manifestation of the “jobs versus environment dilemma” and the related “job blackmail,” a situation in which workers are faced with a choice between defending their health and environment or keeping their jobs. There is no easy way out of this dilemma. However, the reflections developed some 50 years ago by a workerist collective mainly composed of workers employed in the highly toxic industrial complex of Porto Marghera in Venice, Italy could still provide a source of inspiration.

Unifor's Road Map for a Fair, Inclusive and Resilient Economic Recovery

By staff - Unifor, June 2020

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy.

The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.

Unifor brings a modern approach to unionism: adopting new tools, involving and engaging our members, and always looking for new ways to develop the role and approach of our union to meet the demands of the 21st century.

Every person of working age in Canada has a right to a good job and the benefits of economic progress.

Unifor is presenting this plan in June 2020, four months after the novel coronavirus arrived in Canada, at a time when restric-tions on movement, activities and business operations are begin-ning to lift, but infection rates and illness continue to grow.

Read the report (PDF).

Resilient Societies or Fossil Fuel Bailouts?

By staff - Oil Change International - April 22, 2020

The COVID-19 crisis poses a threat to people’s health, their jobs and their lives, and like all crises, exacerbates already existing inequalities. Trillions in public finance will be needed to get through the current pandemic. This briefing outlines why continuing to rely on fossil fuels, in particular oil and gas, is not compatible with long-term recovery. It does not make sense to use the COVID-19 stimulus packages to try to revive a sunsetting industry which will not deliver on economic recovery, only to shut it down a few years later to meet climate goals.

Governments now face a choice: fund a just transition away from fossil fuels that protects workers, communities, and the climate — or continue funding business-as-usual toward climate disaster. Governments should invest in a green recovery that protects and creates long lasting jobs, resilient economies and accelerates climate action. This briefing details why this is the most effective route for recovery and lays out the dos and don’ts for governments in their response to the current crisis.

Key Recommendations (DO’s):

  • Ensure national and international equity and a just transition is at the heart of any government response to the current crisis.
  • Protect workers and communities affected by the crisis, including those in the oil and gas sector, and create long-lasting green jobs by investing in resilient infrastructure and emerging low carbon industries that will continue to create jobs for decades.
  • Ensure Green New Deal frameworks provide the basis for stimulus packages to help rewrite the social contract in a people-centered response to the current crisis. 
  • End fossil fuel subsidies and finance and ensure any carbon price reflects climate and equity imperatives in order to ensure renewables remain competitive and incentivize efficient energy use in light of low oil prices while supporting a just transition.
  • Introduce oil and gas production caps as a first step to limiting emissions. The world is running out of storage capacity and production limits are needed to ensure a managed decline of the industry.
  • Make decision-making processes and response measures transparent in order to allow public scrutiny.
  • Bring the oil and gas industry into public ownership in the right circumstances, as it may be the most straightforward path to ensure a just transition for workers and communities and a managed phase-out.
  • Link any support provided to the industry to a requirement to align with climate goals and plan for a managed decline.
  • Ensure the polluter pays principle is upheld. Broadly speaking, over the past few decades, the financial rewards of the industry have been privatized, while the risks have been socialized.

Key Pitfalls to Avoid (DON’Ts):

  • DON’T bail out oil and gas companies or increase fossil fuel subsidies.
  • DON’T bail out other polluting industries, such as the aviation and shipping industries.
  • DON’T continue the construction or operation of fossil fuel infrastructure at the expense of the health of workers and communities.
  • DON’T roll back existing policies or regulations, or extend licensing agreements.
  • DON’T delay responses to the climate crisis amid the flurry of immediate priorities. If anything, the current pandemic has shown that a crisis demands a timely response to prevent it from escalating further.

While the fossil fuel sector may struggle to return to business as usual, without policies aimed at emerging from the crisis with a cleaner energy system, surviving companies may be in a position to capitalize on rising oil prices as the cycle turns. There are currently no safeguards against a future price spike and subsequent return to the volatile boom-bust cycle. This briefing advises governments to adopt recovery measures that will ensure a just transition off oil and gas, accelerate climate goals and build resilient societies, and center people instead of corporate executives and shareholders — all while tackling today’s parallel health, economic, and climate crises at once.

Read the report (PDF).

“Batshit jobs” - no-one should have to destroy the planet to make a living

By Bue Rübner Hansen - Open Democracy, June 11, 2019

For too long, we have related to climate change mainly as consumers and voters. We have been responsibilised as meat eaters and airplane travellers, we have been urged to vote for the party with the most green agenda, but we have never been addressed as workers. This fits well with the general idea that consumers and voters have power and responsibility, while workers… well, they just have to get on with their work.

However, this pattern is starting to change. First future workers started striking at their schools, now they are calling adults to join a worldwide strike for the climate. The Green New Deal has risen to prominence with its promises of a world of sustainable jobs, and a new report argues that a carbon-neutral economy requires a massive shortening of the work week. Yet there is little discussion about the work that destroys the planet, in a variety of different locations from tar sands and coal mines, over agro-industrial landscapes to downtown skyscrapers and airports, on cargo and cruise ships. Sometimes we hear of coal miners protesting pit closures, or unions demanding subsidies for steel and auto industries, but we rarely hear of the guys pushing oil stocks at Wall St., the engineers designing the next pipeline, advertising agencies pimping mass consumption, or the professors teaching the next generation of petroleum geologists. Some workers could leave their jobs fairly easily, and others are deeply dependent on the next paycheck. These workers have an interest in habitable environments, but are caught in a maddening contradiction, asked by their employers to destroy the conditions of life in order to make a living. We are habituated to think of this as normal, even rational, but it’s time to say openly that it is madness, and to start from there. No one has the right to do such work, and no-one should have to do it.

Techno-fixes and government action might come, but we would be foolish to rely on it being sufficient and timely, or even happening at all. The clock is ticking; climate emergency and species extinction are already in process, and so far every solution imagined by engineers and technocrats has been incapable of even slowing the countdown, and green growth remains a pipe dream. In this situation of urgency, we may thus ask: How can people within and outside destructive industries develop a common interest in abolishing the work that destroys the planet?

Internationalising the Green New Deal: Strategies for Pan-European Coordination

By Daniel Aldana Cohen, Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, and Thea Riofrancos - Common Wealth, 2019

Climate politics are today bursting to life like never before. For four decades, market fundamentalists in the United States and United Kingdom have blocked ambitious efforts to deal with the climate crisis. But now, the neoliberal hegemony is crumbling, while popular climate mobilisations grow stronger every month. There has never been a better moment to transform politics and attack the climate emergency.

When the climate crisis first emerged into public consciousness in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were consolidating a neoliberal doctrine that banished the most powerful tools to confront global heating— public investment and collective action.

Instead, neoliberals sought to free markets from democratically imposed constraints and the power of mass mobilisation. Thatcher insisted that there was no alternative to letting corporations run roughshod over people and planet alike in the name of profit. Soon, New Democrats and New Labour agreed. While the leaders of the third way spoke often of climate change, their actual policies let fossil capital keep drilling and burning. Afraid to intervene aggressively in markets, they did far too little to build a clean energy alternative.

Then the financial crisis of 2008 and the left revival that exploded in its wake laid bare the failures of the neoliberal project. An alternative political economic project is now emerging—and not a moment too soon. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put it, keeping global warming below catastrophic levels will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” In other words: public investment and collective action.

Fortunately, movements on both sides of the Atlantic have been building strength to mount this kind of alternative to market fundamentalism. On the heels of Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, Bernie Sanders’s 2016 Democratic primary campaign breathed new life into the American left and its electoral prospects. Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party, spurred by a vibrant grassroots mobilisation, gives those of us in the U.S. hope: if New Labour could give way to Corbynism, surely Clintonism can give way to the left wing of the Democratic party. In the U.K., drawing on tactics from the Sanders campaign, Momentum has developed a new model of mass mobilisation to transform a fossilised political party. It’s restoring the dream that formal politics can be a means for genuinely democratic political organising. In turn, U.S. leftists are learning from Momentum’s innovations.

The vision of the Green New Deal that has taken shape in the United States in the past few months is in many ways a culmination of the U.S. left’s revival. The Green New Deal’s modest ambition is to do all that this moment requires: decarbonise the economy as quickly as humanly possible by investing massively to electrify everything, while bringing prodigious amounts of renewable power online; all this would be done in a way that dismantles inequalities of race, class and gender. The Green New Deal would transform the energy and food systems and the broader political economy of which they are a part.

Read the report (PDF).

The Ecological Limits of Work: on Carbon Emissions, Carbon Budgets and Working Time

By staff - Autonomy, April 2019

Faced with accelerating technological progress and a deepening ecological crisis, a growing discussion sees a reduction in working hours as a multiple dividend policy, increasing, among other things, individual wellbeing, productivity and gender equality whilst simultaneously potentially contributing to a reduction in unemployment and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. One cannot help but feel reminded of some earlier sociotechnical visions of a society in which productivity gains would be shared broadly to allow for radically shorter working hours and thus a qualitatively better life.

Read the report (PDF).

A four-day working week is within our grasp

By Eleanor Penny - Red Pepper, February 1, 2019

Whenever the government fumbles around desperately for the story they can sell as success, they often reach for the following statistic: that since the Conservatives took power in 2010, unemployment has dropped, and more people than ever are in work. But this simple story conceals a much more worrying truth – that work simply doesn’t guarantee a decent standard of living any more. Official statistics gloss over the effects of semi-employment, self-employment, self-unemployment, zero-hours contracts and a shrinking in real wages, leaving four million people in in-work poverty. The sluggish growth of the apparent recovery is distorted by financial markets, and concentrated largely in the hands of the wealthy – particularly in the South of England. What growth does trickle down to the average worker is eaten up by inflation and falling wages. In other words, UK workers are in dire need of radical change to deliver a more just economy. And with automation promising to turf more jobs onto the scrapheap, maybe it’s time to stop thinking about how to “Get Britain working” – but how to share out labour more fairly across the workforce.

The think tank Autonomy have published a report detailing how shortening the working week from five days to four could be beneficial for the UK’s exhausted workforce, for employers and for the economy as a whole. Our current model of work relies on a toxic mix of over-work and under employment – where many are slogging through eighty hour work weeks, with others on precarious zero-hours contracts. And this is without counting the millions of hours of unpaid domestic and care work – performed largely by women – on which the economy depends. Politicians have reliably responded to crises of employment by slashing wages and putting more power in the hands of bosses to hire and fire at will. But in reality, this offers little hope of returning a better quality of life to working people, the country’s real wealth-creators. And absolutely no hope of responding to the larger structural crises our economy is facing; from climate crisis to  .

Instead, Autonomy’s report advocates a package of pragmatic steps to ensure the rollout of a shorter working week, without a reduction of pay. Such steps include six extra bank holidays, and an adoption of a four-day work structure across the public sector – which would act as an innovator and benchmark for best practise. This would be coupled with a ‘UK Working Time Directive’ to set a limit on the maximum of weekly hours worked, aiming for a cap of 32 hours by 2025. The legal approach needs to be bolstered by worker power to hold bosses and stakeholders to account; the report prescribes sectoral collective bargaining structures, expanding worker representation to “increase equality and security in the years to come”

Some Notes On Mass Refusal: Kim Kelly Interview with IGD

By staff - It's Going Down, January 25, 2019

Recently, It’s Going Down was asked by Kim Kelly (who we have interviewed on our podcast) to talk about the history and impact of general strikes within the United States, as well as the possibilities of its current applications for an op-ed in the pages of Teen Vogue. You can read the finished article here. What follows is our complete responses.

KK: Historically speaking, how successful of a tactic is the general strike?

In the American context general strikes have historically been very important, leading to not only the winning of key demands or beating back this or that attack, but also in fundamentally changing society, and at times, creating a potentially revolutionary situation, as workers have used them as a staging point for the taking over of cities and regions, and large sections of industries, and running them themselves.

One of the most successful general strikes, as noted by Black liberation and socialist author W.E.B. Du Bois, was when millions of enslaved Africans during the Civil War in the American south left plantations en masse and headed for the North, crippling the economy and the war machine. This, coupled with mass desertion of poor white Confederate soldiers, led to a crippling of the Confederacy, as many poor whites refused to die for the rich, white planter class, who was excused from fighting if they owned enough slaves. This combined desertion and mass general strike, played a key role in the collapse of the Confederate State, and also highlights the power of mass refusal under a neo-colonial power structure that thrives on a regimented caste system.

In the contemporary period, in 2006, a wave of wildcat strikes and school walkouts began in response to HR-4437, a bill that attempted to criminalize both undocumented people but also anyone that willingly offered them aid; for instance teachers at school could be charged if they did not turn in undocumented students. Starting from schools and growing to include strikes at workplaces, this mass movement that was largely self-organized and not led by political parties and unions, culminated in a massive May 1st demonstrations that saw a general strike of immigrant workers under the banner, “A Day Without An Immigrant.” The legislation was defeated soon after.

The immigrant general strike of 2006 also revived in the US popular lexicon the importance of May Day, which began as a celebration of the anarchist Haymarket Martyrs, who were executed by the State for their role in strikes in support of the 8-hour work day and against violent attacks on strikers. In this struggle, a variety of tactics were used, including mass strikes, which finally secured the right to the 8 hour work day.

But beyond simply attacking unjust legislation or as a means to win a reform, general strikes have also been the kicking off point for workers in the US to go about seizing the means of existence; in some cases, entire cities and regions.

Work for a Brighter Future

By staff - International Labour Organization, 2019

New forces are transforming the world of work. The transitions involved call for decisive action.

Countless opportunities lie ahead to improve the quality of working lives, expand choice, close the gender gap, reverse the damages wreaked by global inequality, and much more. Yet none of this will happen by itself. Without decisive action we will be heading into a world that widens existing inequalities and uncertainties.

Technological advances – artificial intelligence, automation and robotics – will create new jobs, but those who lose their jobs in this transition may be the least equipped to seize the new opportunities. Today’s skills will not match the jobs of tomorrow and newly acquired skills may quickly become obsolete. The greening of our economies will create millions of jobs as we adopt sustainable practices and clean technologies but other jobs will disappear as countries scale back their carbon- and resource-intensive industries. Changes in demographics are no less significant. Expanding youth populations in some parts of the world and ageing populations in others may place pressure on labour markets and social security systems, yet in these shifts lie new possibilities to afford care and inclusive, active societies.

We need to seize the opportunities presented by these transforma-tive changes to create a brighter future and deliver economic security, equal opportunity and social justice – and ultimately reinforce the fabric of our societies.

Read the report (Link).

Working Together for a Just Transition

By David Powell, Alfie Stirling and Sara Mahmoud - New Economics Foundation, November 2018

This short pamphlet has been produced to launch the New Economics Foundation’s new programme of work on the 'just transition'. Our interest is in the practicality of change: the policies, processes, narrative and investment needed to accelerate the UK’s progress on 'just transition', here and now. Over the coming months and years we will be working at local and national levels to explore what is needed to build common cause and provide the right mixture of incentives and critical challenge to all parties to help unlock a new momentum for a 'just transition' for the UK.

It has been produced in association with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung’s London Office, part of the international network of FES. The London office was established in 1988 to promote better understanding of British- German relations. FES's work in the United Kingdom focuses in particular on the exchange of ideas and discussion on the following topics: common challenges facing Germany, the United Kingdom and the European Union; economic and social policy; experiences gained from differing regional and local policies and practices; and a continuing dialogue between politicians as well as between the trade unions in both countries.

Read the report (PDF).

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