Sunday 27 April 2008

The struggle to redefine the workday

In the photo above ordinary Venezuelans meet together in a Communal Council to discuss community issues and the revolutionary process. The Venezuelan constitution recognises the importance of everyone having time in the day to participate in these democratic structures. In his article 'The capitalist workday, the socialist workday' (included below) Micheal Lebowitz says that the Communal Councils are part of the struggle to redefine the workday.

In New Zealand today there's a democratic and social deficit being created by low pay and overwork. Working people are struggling (and often failing) to earn enough money to meet the most basic human needs, like housing, food, electricity etc. This is having a terrible impact on the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. Lebowitz argues that this human cost is ingrained in capitalism, it's the direct result of the exploitation of workers' labour - the source of the capitalist's profits.

In his conclusion Lebowitz says:

"[W]hen we look at the workday from the perspective of socialism, we see that the simple demand for reducing the workday is a demand from within capitalism. Its message is simple - end this horror! This is an "infected" conception of the workday. It starts from a view of labour as so miserable that the only thing you can think of doing is reducing and ending it.

When we think about building socialism, however, we recognise that the demand is to transform the workday - to recognise all parts of our workday explicitly and to transform that day qualitatively. Rather than only "free time" being time in which we can develop, from the perspective of socialism it is essential to make the whole day time for building human capacities.

In short, there are two ways of looking at the demand for the reduced workday: one way talks simply about a shorter work week and thus longer weekend vacations; in contrast, a second way stresses the reduction of the traditional workday in order to provide the time on a daily basis for education for self-managing, for our work within the household and our work within our communities. In other words, it is the demand to redefine and transform our workday."

Should we in New Zealand make the struggle to redefine and transform the workday a core part of the broad left project?

The capitalist workday, the socialist workday

by Michael A. Lebowitz

from Links - International Journal of Socialist Renewal
24 April, 2008

As May Day approaches, there are four things that are worth remembering:

1. For workers, May Day does not celebrate a state holiday or gifts from the state but commemorates the struggle of workers from below.

2. The initial focus of May Day was a struggle for the shorter workday.

3. The struggle for the shorter workday is not an isolated struggle but is the struggle against capitalist exploitation.

4. The struggle against capitalist exploitation is an essential part but not the only part of the struggle against capitalism.

What I want to do today is to set out some ideas about the capitalist workday and the socialist workday which I hope can be useful in the current struggles in Venezuela and, more immediately, in today's discussion.


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