Work As You Please (“It Would Never Work”)

Socialists are, rightly, wary of “giving a blueprint” when asked how Socialism will work. On the other hand, when we have sometimes suggested that, even assuming the type of production known under Capitalism would still exist in a Socialist society, many of the stresses known to-day would disappear, we have been accused of being Utopians, not understanding the requirements of these methods. However, strange things seem to be happening.


Without doubt, one of the major stresses imposed not only on workers in factories, but also offices, is the inflexible hours they are expected to work in order to obtain full use of office and production space and machinery. This not only means the tiring frustrations of rush hour travel, but the amount of time spent apart by partners working different hours, the inability to take time off from work for special occasions without loss of earnings, as well as the struggle to get up in the dark for several months of the year and early-morning sluggishness which seems to beset the majority of us, while the minority who feel bright in the mornings wilt at the tail-end of the working day.


The magazine Woman, in the first of a series of articles on life today, deals with this very subject. It appears that the suggestion put forward by Socialists — called “impractical” by our more friendly opponents—is being put into practice by a growing number of large as well as small capitalists. The most common method adopted is to have a ‘hard core’ period —say, 10-4, when everyone is expected to attend. Apart from this, so long as a given number of hours are worked each week or month, employees suit themselves as to which days and when they will put in the remaining hours between the time the factory or office opens at, say, 8.00 a.m. and closes 10 or 12 hours later.


Employers have found that the extra overheads are more than compensated for by reduction of absenteeism and better productivity. Doctors approve the scheme as, not only does it lead to more relaxed people working at their peak capacity, but the chances of spreading infection during rush-hour travel are much reduced. This, of course, leads to less absenteeism due to illness and consequent improvement in productivity.


On the continent of Europe this system of flexible hours is already quite widely used, and investigations are taking place as to how the hard core period could be reduced or eliminated. In this country there are already twelve organisations who have introduced the scheme. As among them are ICI’s Petrochemical Division, Pilkington Glass and Pakcel Converters (one of the three giant producers of cellulose film), we can take it that the system is efficient (that is, under capitalism, profitable!) as well as benefiting the workers concerned. The latter, under capitalism, is a side issue but, in a Socialist society, would be the governing factor.


Eva Goodman