Some thoughts on a strategy to force a reduction of hours of labor

by Jehu

Several interesting questions from Rory on the idea of a “Fridays Off” embargo to enforce a 32 hours work week:

“I’m on board.

There is the problem of how to overcome the resistance not only from the capitalists, but the proletariat themselves who will not be so happy when activists are blocking the highway during the morning commute. And, if it’s the employees who are participating in the strike, they are always at risk of being replaced by the more desperate within their class. In this, it’s also interesting to ponder which parts of society are striking, cashiers or surgeons.

This leads me to conclude it’s essential to consider *what* people are supposed to be doing when not working during the embargo. Is there a way to demonstrate to the worker, possibly by providing services during the strike, that there is another way to live that doesn’t require the sale of their labor-power? I have no idea if this is only a messaging issue or something more fundamental. Probably the the latter.

The strike in Brazil will probably be the next example of what happens when there is no real effort into addressing the problem of how to live without a job in a world so alienated from nature: a few burned busses with, at best, minor labor policy concessions that will barely phase the machine on it’s way to self-destruction.”

I think Rory raises four important questions in this comment. Let me see if I can summarize them:

  1. Won’t workers get really pissed off if activists block commuters who are only trying to get to work in the morning?
  2. Won’t workers who participate in such blockades be fired by their employer in retaliation?
  3. What will people do with their time off on days when an embargo is called? For instance, won’t it be necessary to organize events on days when an embargo is enforced to demonstrate another way of life is possible?
  4. Isn’t it necessary to address the problem of living without work in a world so alienated from nature.

The last question is the easiest: we already know how to live without work. Our solution is called “weekends”. An embargo on all labor time beyond 32 hours is simply an extension of the weekend from 48 hours to 72 hours per week. Over a period of five years we intend to progressively extend the weekend until it encompasses the entire week. At that point, compulsory labor time will fall to zero and all time will become free, disposable time for the mass of society. Society and social relations will be no longer constituted by labor. Rather labor, material production, will be constituted (determined) solely by the actual need of the members of society. Free time means just that: nothing should determine how this time is spent but the wants and needs of the individual for that activity.

I believe this answers question three as well. We should demonstrate what people should do with their day off by doing whatever we want for that day. If that is a festival, a demonstration, an outdoor lecture, a concert or time hiking in the hills — or all of them together. Together or separately, people can fill their time as they see fit. This activity alone demonstrates that another life is possible. These activities do not have to be in groups, nor do they have to involve “good works” or social activism. They can be whatever individuals decide to do together or separately. All that matters is that it is something each person wants to do, not some activity determined by the priests of social activism.

Some things to remember:

First, free time is not meant to be a chance for you to “give back to the community”. We have been giving and giving our surplus labor time for hundreds of years. No more “giving.” Free time is our time to dispose of as it pleases us alone.

Second, free time is not an opportunity for corporate style “team building” events or political rallies. There is no obligation implied in free time but that you do what you want to do and nothing else. Don’t try to turn free time into what it isn’t: a new way of producing and/or distributing commodities — a new way of organizing society around labor. Free time is the abolition of production, distribution and labor as the organizing principle of society.

To answer questions 1 and 2:

Yes, people will be really pissed off that they are being prevented from reaching their jobs. The capitalists will be equally pissed off that our actions disrupt the production of surplus value and will retaliate against us. But, in first place, this is no different than the hostility a few brave workers faced when they opposed World War I. Public scorn was poured on them and the entire machinery of the state set about to crush them. I have heard that not a few internationalists were lynched by other workers gripped with patriotic zeal.

Further, during the Freedom Movement, civil rights workers were routinely lynched by mobs more or less directed by governments, police and the FBI. Strikes have always been attacked by Pinkertons, soldiers, police, politicians and scabs. The distinction here is that placing an embargo on labor threatens capitalism to its core and the reaction will be equally ferocious. Communists have faced this sort of absolute hostility from the whole of society before. It is nothing new nor particularly surprising.

The very idea of placing an embargo on labor time is so outrageous as to be unthinkable. It will take some time for people to adjust. People who today would not consider walking off the job to win union recognition have to be convinced to walk off to emancipate themselves from wage slavery entirely. This will require months of militant actions just to get a hearing from the working class.