Hours, Wages and Poverty: On the introduction to Kathi Weeks’ “The Problem with Work”
I have been spending some time reading Kathi Weeks, “The Problem with Work”, and find myself unable to get beyond this sophomoric statement in her introduction:
“I focus on the demands for basic income and shorter hours for two reasons. First, like the demand for living wages and others, they represent important remedies for some of the problems with the existing system of wages and hours. A guaranteed and universal basic income would enhance the bargaining position of all workers vis-il-vis employers and enable some people to opt out of waged work without the stigma and precariousness of means-tested welfare programs. A thirty-hour full-time work week without a decrease in pay [my emphasis] would help to address some of the problems of both the underemployed and the overworked. The second reason for focusing on these demands—which I think distinguishes them from many other demands for economic reform, including the demand for a living wage—is their capacity not only to improve the conditions of work but to challenge the terms of its dominance. These demands do not affirm our right to work so much as help us to secure some measure of freedom from it.”
I am not going to argue this passage characterizes the whole of her book, but I find it bizarre that a Marxist like Kathi Weeks considers a demand for a 30 hour week utopian. She seems to have no clue that there is a relation between hours of labor, on the one hand, and wages and prices, on the other. Moreover, she never mentions the connection between hours of labor, competition among workers and racism, misogyny, anti-migrant sentiments.
Coupling the demand for a six hour day with a demand for no decrease in wages or a demand for basic income actually shows why Marxists secretly fear the demand for fewer hours of labor is utopian: If there is the slightest danger the subsistence of the working class will fall if hours are reduced, no worker will ever support it. A very large section of the working class lives hand to mouth at a level where they would be homeless and hungry within a month. Another section would be in the same position within a couple of months, once they have exhausted the meager savings.
What compels the working class to sell their labor power is that they cannot live without doing this. But Weeks implicitly “admits” in her introduction that a reduction of hours will have a negative impact on their income, that it will further reduce their subsistence. How are you going to sell this “utopian” demand to the working class? Do you tell them that being idle, homeless and destitute is an improvement on their current position in society?
From her introduction on, Weeks already demonstrates how little of the problem of labor she actually grasps. Her introduction is actually an embarrassing step backward from Keynes, who, at least, admits fewer hours of labor are forced on society; society has no choice in this at all. If even against that bourgeois simpleton Keynes, Weeks proves her argument is inferior, a reluctant admission on his part of the impending collapse of capitalism, she appears completely ignorant of Marx’s argument that reduction of hours of labor is itself social emancipation — the Magna Charta of the working class.
The relation between hours of labor, on the one hand, and wages and prices, on the other, has a definite tendency: as the social labor day increases in duration, real wages fall and nominal prices rise. All of the empirical data since 1970 demonstrates this relation; as the social labor day has increased, the real wages of the working class have fallen and poverty has increased. At the same time, as the social labor day has increased, the prices of commodities has risen and, with it, the poverty of the working class has again increased.
The social labor day is nothing more than the product of the labor force times the average hours of labor; which is to say, more workers, working longer hours, has only resulted in higher prices and falling wages. Now compare this empirical fact with a statement in 2009 by Larry Summers, then chief economic adviser to President Barack Obama:
“I think we got the Recovery Act right,” Larry Summers, the president’s chief economic adviser, said in an interview. “The primary objective of our policy is having more work done, more product produced and more people earning more income. It may be desirable to have a given amount of work shared among more people. But that’s not as desirable as expanding the total amount of work.”
Why does Larry Summers think it is more desirable to expand the total amount of work rather than reduce hours of labor? Because, unlike our own Marxist academics, he can read the fucking empirical data and this data proves more work actually reduces wages and increases profit. The bourgeois simpletons already know longer hours of labor lead to falling wages, only dumb fucking Marxists think the relation is such that wages increase when hours do.
My god you dumb Marxists. Did your parents drop all of you on your fucking heads! How is it that all the fucking brainiac academics can’t even read a simple and straightforward 40 year old stable relation in the empirical data? Hours of labor increase, real wages fucking fall. How difficult is this to understand?
Really, I am always astonished by how Marxist academics can fuck up a wet dream: just when I think I have seen everything, some fucking Marxist academic, somewhere, invents a new way to be an idiot. All Kathi Weeks had to do was look at the fucking empirical data.
I mean, honestly, somebody please tell me why do the capitalists want the workers to work as many hours as possible? Is this because it increases wages or profits? Why do the capitalists frantically fight against any reduction of hours of labor? Is this because fewer hours of labor leads to a decrease in wages?
Really, how fucking stupid do you have to be to not be able to figure this out after reading Capital?
With apologies to Willie Nelson:
“Mothers, don’t let your babies grow up to be Marxists!
Don’t let them read Hegel and all them old fucks;
Make them be Keynesians and Austrians and such”