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Karl Marx

“We Want Everything”: A Four-Day Work Week

By Samantha O’Brien - Rupture, June 9, 2022

“It’s not fair, living this shitty life, the workers said in meetings, in groups at the gates. All the stuff, all the wealth that we make is ours. Enough. We can’t stand it any more, we can’t just be stuff too, goods to be sold. Vogliamo tutto - We want everything”

- Nanni Balestrin

Labour Power

The four-day work week has captivated media headlines internationally, with different countries piloting programmes in the Global North. Seventeen companies have signed up to commit to a pilot programme in Ireland. Thirty companies in the UK are taking part in a new pilot. Workers will maintain one-hundred per cent productivity for eighty per cent of their time.[1] Belgium has given workers the right to request a four-day work week with no loss of pay, effectively condensing their five day work week into four days. This has rightfully attracted criticism, as working time has not reduced, but workers get to maximise their stress levels by working nine and a half hours per day.[2] The central theme of many global campaigns is that the implementation will look different in varying sectors, rosters and working arrangements. The campaign’s main aim is for a shorter working week with no loss of pay and challenging the dominant narrative that long hours equate with greater productivity.[3]

The key demand of socialists has long been a shorter working week with no loss of pay. Karl Marx in Capital describes how the hours that make up the working day mean different things to employees and employers. Workers put in their time to afford the basic necessities in life. Employers buy labour-power, and the value is determined by working time. Any labour-power beyond what is required to produce the necessities of life is surplus-value that employers get for free. It is not necessary for us to work long hours to produce what is needed, but instead employers maximise their profits by taking our surplus value. Marx notes that “the history of capitalist production, the determination of what is a working-day, presents itself as the result of a struggle, a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e., working-class.”[4]

There are many examples of struggles over shorter working hours throughout history. The eight-hour working day in the Global North was not granted because of benevolent employers or lobbying politicians, but fought for and won through struggle. In 1856, Australian Stonemasons who were working harsh ten hours days walked off their job and eventually won an eight-hour day.[5] The same story was echoed in struggles internationally, with workers taking a collective stand for their pay and conditions. Eleanor Marx, who was a founder of the GMB Union in 1889, fought and won an eight hour workday for gas workers. On May Day in 1890, she also played a crucial role in organising the Hyde Park protest in London. This protest gathered hundreds of thousands of people with the key demand of an eight-hour workday.[6]

Green Unionism against Precarity

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, January 1, 2022

Editor's Note: all but one or two of the links in this article link to multiple articles, located on the IWW Environmental Union Caucus site, categorized by topic. Therefore, it is to the reader's interest to explore all of the articles brought forth by each link, at their convenience (and that body of information is ever evolving over time).

An edited version of this article appears in New Politics 72.

In a real sense, under capitalism, all workers are "precarious", meaning that they can be downsized, replaced, deskilled, outsourced, etc. It's simply a matter of degrees.

The ultimate peak in precarity is "gig work" (which has actually always existed; the names simply keep changing, but the concept is the same).

Unions represent a check against precarity, though this occurs on a graduated scale. The stronger the union, the less the workers' precarity.

Union strength manifests in various ways: it can result from a well organized, international, militant democratic union (ideal, but rare, with few real world examples, such as ILWU, and the IWW, of course), though more often than not it's a result of concentration of elite craft workers in skilled trades unions, which represents a strong guard against precarity, but only for workers in the union, in which case, solidarity is limited.

Other checks against precarity include high demand for skilled craft workers in rare supply, High demand for hard to replace workers (such as workers that required skilled credentials, such as teachers or transport workers), or tight labor markets (which exist in our semi-post COVID-19 world, due to a combination of factors spelled out in the Vox article).

This is nothing more than class struggle 101, as expertly phrased by Karl Marx, et. al.

There are new forms of precarity emerging due to climate catastrophe (brought on by capitalism). Workers find themselves facing new health and safety hazards and/or threats to their working environment.

Capitalism, Ecology, and the Green New Deal

By Harrison Carpenter-Neuhaus - Voices for New Democracy, December 9, 2021

The world’s climate is changing, and it’s surprising — and disappointing — how little our responses have changed since we first recognized the problem decades ago. Since the 1970s, the world has been well aware of climate impacts of burning fossil fuels and many have recognized how our political economy lies at the heart of the problem. Marxist thinkers in particular, like Paul Mattick, were quick to describe the irreconcilable contradiction between our extractive and growth-oriented economic systems and the carrying capacity of our natural ecosystems. But despite these prescient warnings, the world today is still clinging to the same economic systems and largely failing to resolve these tensions. In the face of the accelerating crisis, it’s worth reflecting on the clear trajectory that thinkers like Mattick identified, and what it means for our options in the present moment. 

In 1976, Mattick published his analysis of the problem in “Capitalism and Ecology,” just four years after scientist John Sawyer published the study Man-made Carbon Dioxide and the “Greenhouse” Effect in 1972. Sawyer’s study summarized the scientific consensus at the time around the Earth’s pressing climate concerns: the anthropogenic attribution of the carbon dioxide greenhouse gas, their widespread distribution and their exponential rise throughout the modern era. By the mid-70s, even the Club of Rome recognized the impending ecological crisis in The Limits to Growth. In short, everyone was beginning to recognize the issue: too many of us are using too many resources, too quickly, in too many places. 

As Mattick writes, Marx recognized that “the exhaustion of the earth’s wealth and relative overpopulation were the direct result of production for profit” (a point that has been explored in great detail by a new generation of eco-Marxists like John Bellamy Foster). And science bears this out. Our world has only become more productive, populated, and globalized since the Industrial Revolution, and this has correlated closely with rising levels of energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions every year. As our economic activity increases, we cannot avoid using more raw materials to keep the system moving and maintain profit margins.

Ultimately, it is capitalist social relations that drive this ecological crisis. “Social phenomena are ecological phenomena,” Mattick writes. To keep profit rates high (the motor driving the entire system), companies simply have no choice but to keep expanding and growing, and that always requires the use of raw materials — and as global capitalism expands (and demand grows as populations increase and more workers are brought out of the subsistence economy into the wage labor system), that rate of raw material consumption can only increase.

Death or Renewal: Is the Climate Crisis the Final Crisis?

By Wayne Price - Anarkismo, July 13, 2021

Classical socialists, both anarchists and Marxists, have written of the eventual end of capitalism--either through a popular revolution creating a new society or through the self-destruction of capitalism. Global warming raises the question of whether humanity is now facing such a possible total crisis, of choosing between socialism or social ruin.

Recently a friend sent me an article by Simon Lewis, a professor of global change science at the University College of London. Its title (Lewis 2021) was, “Canada is a warning: more and more of the world will soon be too hot for humans” and its subtitle was, “Without an immediate global effort to combat the climate emergency, the Earth’s uninhabitable areas will keep growing.

This led me to think of the apocalyptic warnings of the socialist tradition, the most well-known, perhaps, being Rosa Luxemberg’s “socialism or barbarism.” In 1878, Friedrich Engels wrote that the bourgeoisie was “a class under whose leadership society is racing to ruin…If the whole of modern society is not to perish, a revolution in the mode of production and distribution must take place, a revolution which will put an end to all class distinctions.” (Engels 1954; 217-8) Capitalism’s “own productive forces…are driving the whole of bourgeois society towards ruin or revolution.” (228)

Marx began his 1848 Communist Manifesto by claiming, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles…that each time ended, either in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.” (2013; 60-61) So, there is an historic choice between “revolutionary re-constitution” or “common ruin.” (This raising of two possible outcomes seems to be contradicted by the Manifesto’s later statement—about the capitalist class, “Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.” [73] I will not discuss whether Marx was a determinist, and, if so, of what kind.)

This was also an anarchist concept, integrating the problems of capitalism and its state. In 1898, Peter Kropotkin concluded The State--Its Historic Role, "Death--or renewal! Either the State for ever, crushing individual and local life, taking over in all fields of human activity, bringing with it all its wars and domestic struggles for power...which only replace one tyrant by another, and inevitably at the end of the development there is--death! Or the destruction of States, and new life starting again in thousands of centers on the principle of the lively initiative of the individual and groups and that of free agreement. The choice lies with you!” (1987; 60)

Rich People Are Fueling Climate Catastrophe, but Not Mostly Because of Their Consumption

By Matt Huber - Jacobin, May 2, 2021

The same study keeps coming out to show that the rich are causing climate change and environmental breakdown. In 2015, Oxfam released a report entitled “Extreme Carbon Inequality” that found the top 10 percent of people in the world are responsible for 50 percent of emissions, while the bottom 50 percent are only responsible for 10 percent. That same year, economists Thomas Piketty and Lucas Chancel crunched the data to reveal similarly stark numbers: the “top 10% emitters contribute to 45% of global emissions.”

More recently, a wide-ranging scientific review argued that “consumption of affluent households worldwide is by far the strongest determinant and the strongest accelerator of increases of global environmental and social impacts.” And just last month, a new study found that the wealthy — who they identify as a “polluter elite” — are “at the heart of the climate problem.” The study recommends, “far reaching changes in lifestyles are also required if we are to avoid dangerous levels of global heating.”

It shouldn’t be surprising that those on the Left have seized on these studies as grist for the mill of class struggle. Here at Jacobin, this data has led to call-to-arms articles like “Only class war can stop climate change” and “To save the planet, expropriate the rich.”

So far, so good. Yet these studies share a fatal flaw: they conceptualize the rich’s contribution to global heating and environmental breakdown solely in terms of their “affluence” or “consumption.” While the “lifestyles of the rich and famous” are often egregious from an environmental standpoint, we need to look beyond their personal consumptive choices to understand the true significance of their contribution to climate change — and to understand the political challenge ahead of us for actually halting catastrophic climate change.

The basis of these studies is household income data and an inferred relationship with spending patterns associated with emissions or “carbon footprints,” so it is no surprise that someone like Thomas Piketty, a world-famous analyst of income inequality, would use this data to link such inequality to carbon emissions.

But income is not the best way to understand inequality under capitalism. A plumber could have the same income as a college professor. The plumber could also have the exact same income if they ran their own plumbing business or if they worked for a massive plumbing corporation.

For Marxists, class and inequality has to do with your relationship to the means of production. More broadly, class is less about how much money you make and more about what you own and control. For the vast majority of us, we only own our labor power to sell on the market to live. For the rich, it is their ownership of property, businesses, and monetary wealth itself that makes them so powerful in a capitalist society.

Beyond the Growth Imperative

By Olaf Bruns - Green European Journal, April 13, 2021

For 30 years, environmental economist Tim Jackson has been at the fore of international debates on sustainability. Over a decade since his hugely influential Prosperity Without Growth, the world is both much changed – reeling from a pandemic and with unprecedented prominence for environmental issues – and maddeningly the same, still locked in a growth-driven destructive spiral. What does Jackson’s latest contribution, Post Growth, have to say about the way out of the dilemma?

Tim Jackson’s new book, Post Growth: Life after Capitalism (Polity Press, 2021), follows his ground-breaking Prosperity without Growth (2009, updated in 2017). Whilst the previous work reflected, partly, the austerity-driven answers to the Great Recession, Post Growth falls into a different world. It is a world where the recognition of climate change as the greatest challenge facing humankind is moving towards consensus. In the United States, even the Republican Party’s younger members are looking for ways out of the corner into which the party has manoeuvred itself.

It is also a world where the Covid-19 pandemic has not only taken many lives and destroyed many livelihoods, but – via the need for state intervention – has also dealt a blow to the gung-ho neoliberalism that is one of the main culprits of financial chaos and the looming breakdown of planetary life-support systems.

US President Joe Biden’s rescue plan as well as the EU’s Next Generation pandemic recovery fund are questioning the free-market paradigm that has held sway the since the Reagan-Thatcher area, and that had trickled down into centre-left politics as well. In parallel, from the Paris Agreement to the European Commission’s European Green Deal, environmental concerns that were condescendingly smiled upon until recently have now moved centre stage. The newly discovered role for the state and the emerging environmental consciousness might not be discussed at length in Jackson’s new book, but they are the backdrop against which it is to be read.

The work-technology nexus and working-class environmentalism: Workerism versus capitalist noxiousness in Italy’s Long 1968

By Lorenzo Feltrin and Devi Sacchetto - Theory and Society, March 5, 2021

This article traces the trajectory of theory and praxis around nocività or noxiousness – i.e., health damage and environmental degradation – drawn by the workerist group rooted in the petrochemical complex of Porto Marghera, Venice. While Porto Maghera was an important setting for the early activism of influential theorists such as the post-workerist Antonio Negri and the autonomist feminist Mariarosa Dalla Costa, the theories produced by the workers themselves have been largely forgotten. Yet, this experience was remarkable because it involved workers employed by polluting industries denouncing in words and actions the environmental degradation caused by their companies from as early as 1968, when the workerists had a determining influence in the local factories.

The Porto Marghera struggles against noxiousness contradict the widespread belief that what is today known as working-class environmentalism did not have much significance in the labour unrest of Italy’s Long 1968. The Porto Marghera group’s original contribution was based on the thesis of the inherent noxiousness of capitalist work and an antagonistic-transformative approach to capitalist technology. This led to the proposal of a counterpower able to determine “what, how, and how much to produce” on the basis of common needs encompassing the environment, pointing to the utopian prospect of struggling for a different, anti-capitalist technology, compatible with the sustainable reproduction of life on the planet.

Read the text (Link).

Know your enemy: How to defeat capitalism

By Michael A. Lebowitz - Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, 2021

“Anyone can succeed”

In a capitalist society, there is always a good explanation for your poverty, your meaningless job (if you have a job), your difficulties and your general unhappiness. You are to blame. It is your failure. After all, look at other people who do succeed. If only you had worked a little harder, studied a little more, made those sacrifices.

We are told that anybody who works hard can become a success. Anyone can save up and become your own boss, a boss with employees. And there is some truth to this. Often, any one person can do these things — but we can’t conclude from this that every person can. It is a basic fallacy to conclude that because one person can do something, therefore everyone can. One person can see better in the theater if he stands, but if everyone stands no one can see better. Anyone can get the last seat on the plane, but everyone can’t. Any country can cut its costs and become more competitive, but every country cannot become more competitive by cutting costs.

The lessons they want you to learn

So, what does this focus upon the individual tell you? It tells you that it’s your own fault, that you are your own worst enemy. But maybe you don’t accept that. Maybe what’s holding you back is those other people. The problem is those people of color, the immigrants, indeed everyone willing to work for less who is taking a job away from you. They are the enemy because they compete with you. They’re the ones who force you to take a job for much less than you deserve, if you are to get a job at all.

The prison

Think about what’s known as “The Prisoners’ Dilemma”. Two people have been arrested for a crime, and each is separately made an offer: if you confess and the other prisoner doesn’t, you will get a very short sentence. But if the other confesses and you don’t, you will be in jail for a long time. So, each separately decides to confess. That’s a lot like your situation. The Workers’ Dilemma is: do I take the low wage job with little security or do I stay unemployed? “If everything were left to isolated, individual bargaining,” argued the General Council of the International Workingman’s Association (in which Karl Marx was a central figure), competition would, if unchecked, “reduce the producers of all wealth to a starvation level.” Of course, if the prisoners were able to cooperate, they would be much better off. And so are workers.

Immigrants, people of color, people in other countries are not inherently enemies. The other prisoners are not the enemy. Something, though, wants you to see each other as enemies. That something is the prison — the structure in which we all exist. That is the enemy: capitalism.

Read the text (PDF).

Marx Didn’t Invent Socialism, Nor Did He Discover It

By Steve Lalla - International 360, December 9, 2021

Revered as the Father of Socialism, in popular conception Karl Marx (1818–1883) is the originator of socialist theory, the creator of a plan implemented thereafter by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and other socialist nations. He remains one of the most cited authors of all time, and his writings are endlessly scrutinized and analyzed. Was he standing on the shoulders of giants?

Without aiming to tear down the legacy of Marx or to minimize his contributions to economics and history — a hopeless task that we can leave up to capitalists — we can examine the historical context in which he arose.

There’s no debate that Marx didn’t invent socialism. As co-editor of a French-German radical newspaper by 1843, a young Marx would have read the term “socialism” used by French author Pierre Leroux (1797–1871) — generally credited with coining the term — or the German Lorenz von Stein (1815–1890). England’s Robert Owen (1771–1858) had bandied the word about as early as 1835. French philosopher Victor d’Hupay (1746–1818) called himself a communist author around 1785, thirty-three years before Marx’s birth, and his colleague Nicolas-Edme Rétif (1734–1806) even used the term to describe a form of government.¹

In Engels’ Socialism: Utopian and Scientific he celebrates “the founders of socialism” Saint-Simon (1760–1825), Owen, and Charles Fourier (1772–1837), and refers to the “actual communistic theories” of Étienne-Gabriel Morelly and Gabriel Bonnot de Mably.²

Gerrard Winstanley, in the 17th century, and Thomas More, who wrote Utopia in 1515, were two other notable Britons who wrote about societies where community came before profit, private property was unknown, and in which workers controlled the means of production.

Incidentally, Marx did not draw a strong distinction between socialism and communism. He implied that communism was a stage beyond that of socialism in The Critique of the Gotha Program, published posthumously in 1891. Lenin and others drew out this distinction in greater detail. In general Marx and Engels used the two terms interchangeably.

For a Sustainable Future: The Centrality of Public Goods

By Nancy Holmstrom - Socialist Register, Spring 2020

The most recent report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes it absolutely clear that ways of living in the twenty-first century must be premised on the existential threat to our survival posed by multiple ecological crises. Indeed it could all be over before the end of the century. If we do not radically suppress global CO2 emissions, global warming will rise to the point where it cannot be stopped. While not long ago the word ‘catastrophe’ seemed hyperbolic to many, today few could deny it is fitting. Melting glaciers, rising sea level, drought, fires, and flooding all over the world and the resulting migration are catastrophes for those who suffer them – and give us a taste of far worse catastrophes to come. Already the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are 150,000 excess deaths per year due to climate change, likely to double by 2030.

After the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center we heard the word ‘security’ incessantly, almost always invoked as intentional threats to our safety and well-being, which of course means they are threats by people, whether they be individuals, groups, or nations. Global warming, on the other hand, is a threat from nature that is an unintended result of human action – not what is usually intended by a ‘security’ threat, and it does not grip our imagination and fears in any way proportional to its severity. But it is not only intentional acts that can threaten our safety and well-being. Once threats to our security are conceived more broadly, consider the greater dangers from unclean air and water and contagious diseases, whatever the mix of intentional and unintentional acts that created the problem.

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