The TUC in Britain has recently called for a four-day working week. But how can we realise the potential of technology and achieve this demand?

The TUC in Britain has recently called for a four-day working week. But how can we realise the potential of technology and achieve this demand?

1.4 million workers in Britain put in seven days a week at work, the TUC has recently revealed. Over three million work more than 45 hours per week, with the UK average standing at a gruelling 44 hours.

For many, long, stressful hours are the only way to make ends meet in modern Tory Britain. And this is despite the enormous wealth and rapid development of technology in society.

The TUC rightly points out that the future of work under capitalism looks bleak. Rather than modern technology liberating us from work, poor pay and casualisation have been accelerated by platforms in the “gig economy”, forcing many to work harder and longer.

Workers are understandably suspicious of new technology under such circumstances, seeing how it often leads to job losses, intensified working conditions, and greater profits for the bosses.

In whose benefit?

The TUC is right to argue for a four-day working week, which should be entirely possible given the potential for automation that now exists.

However, the TUC leaders make this demand not from the point of view of how it would benefit workers, but how it would benefit the bosses by increasing productivity and thus profits.

Capitalism is a system based on the maximum exploitation of labour and the constant accumulation of profit. Under such a system, any reduction in working time must come with an intensification of work, in order to produce more wealth in a less time.

Within the confines of capitalism, therefore, the gains from any increases in productivity and improvements in technology necessarily accrue to the owners of capital. This is what Marx pointed out over 150 years ago in his famous work, Capital, when he stated that automation and machinery under capitalism would lead to:

“Accumulation of wealth at one pole [and] at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole.”

modern times

Overwork and unemployment

This can be seen today by the growth of low-paid, precarious work alongside the rise of automation and technology. Overwork for millions exists simultaneously with unemployment and underemployment for millions more.

And yet surely we could share out the work, providing everyone with a decent job at decent pay, whilst lowering the hours of the working week to a fraction of those currently experienced by the vast majority?

But this is only possible by breaking with the market and the profit motive, and having a socialist plan of production, based upon the needs of society.

Narrow vision

Frances OGradyThe snail’s-pace change advocated by labour movement leaders like TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, however, doesn’t fill us with confidence.

“In the nineteenth century, unions campaigned for an eight-hour day,” O’Grady told the audience in her keynote speech at the recent TUC conference. “In the twentieth century, we won the right to a two-day weekend and paid holidays.” At this rate, we might reach socialism some time in the 24th century!

But there is no need to wait so long. By nationalising the key levers of the economy, under workers’ control and management, we could immediately invest in automation and machinery to free us from work, not enslave us.

A sliding scale of working hours could easily be put into action, with the working week decreasing as the unemployed are given work and labour-saving technology is implemented throughout the economy.

The struggle for time

As Marx emphasised in his economic writings, the length of the working day is ultimately settled by a struggle between the classes: between the capitalists and their drive for profits, on one side; and the workers and their fight for decent living standards, on the other.

The potential clearly exists to go even further, and eventually to abolish the drudgery of work altogether, providing humanity with the conditions in which art, culture and science can flourish, and creating a society where the creative efforts of society serve as both a means and an end to itself. This is the revolutionary vision we should fight for.

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Socialist Appeal are proud to publish this education guide to help focus your studies of Marxist theory and practice. Visit the various tabs below to find links to introductory articles, classic texts, videos and audio talks for different topics. Read More
Check out this selection of writings for an excellent introduction to many of the fundamentals of Marxist theory, providing a strong basis for those wishing to equip themselves with the ideas necessary in order to fight for socialism. Read More
Dialectical materialism is the philosophy or methodology of Marxism. We must seek to understand the laws of society and nature in order to change them. Read More
Historical materialism is the general theory of how and why society develops in the way it does. Each social system has its inherent laws of motion. If we want to overthrow capitalist society, we must understand how capitalism works. Read More
Marxist economics is the study of the laws of motion of capitalist society, allowing us to understand why capitalism perpetually goes into crisis, where inequality comes from, and what the alternative is. Read More
The Russian Revolution is the greatest event in world history for Marxists. Studying the events of 1917, and understanding why the Revolution degenerated into Stalinism, provides vital lessons for revolutionaries today. Read More
For Marxists, the state is not at all neutral. We must understand the state’s real basis and strip away its mysticism by treating it historically - taking in its origins, rise, and eventual fall. Read More
Anarchism is naturally attractive for those wanting to abolish capitalism. But only Marxist ideas can explain why bureaucracy and oppression exist - and how to overthrow the exploitative capitalist system. Read More
Marxists are irreconcilably opposed to the oppression of women and fight determinedly for liberation and against discrimination. We believe this will be achieved through the class struggle - to abolish the oppressive capitalist system. Read More
The madness of fascism expresses the historic crisis and dead-end of capitalism. But it could have been avoided if the working class had a united revolutionary leadership, prepared to take power. Read More
Nations have not always existed, nor will they always exist in the future. Marxists are internationalists, fighting for world socialist revolution as the only way forward for humanity and our planet. Read More
Wars represent the sharp extreme of capitalism’s impasse. Imperialism, Lenin said, was the "highest stage of capitalism". As long as the profit system exists, there will be wars over markets and spheres of influence. Read More
All written history, Marx stated, is the history of class struggle. Our task is to learn the lessons from history in order to prepare for the revolutionary events taking place today and in the future. Read More
Our aim is to spread the ideas of Marxism, in an organised fashion, amongst workers and youth. In order to do this, we must study the history and traditions of the working class. Read More
  • Educate Yourself
  • The Fundamentals of Marxism: suggested reading
  • Dialectical Materialism and Science
  • Historical Materialism
  • Marxist Economics
  • Russia, Lenin, Trotsky and Stalinism
  • The State
  • Anarchism
  • Women's liberation
  • Fascism
  • The National Question
  • Imperialism and War
  • Revolutionary History
  • Revolutionary Strategy