2020s >> 2021 >> no-1402-june-2021

The daily class struggle

The rough life expectancy of a person in Britain will be about 28,800 days. Those days are the only ones we will ever have, we never get refunds, we never get leftovers, at best we can increase our allotment of days: with a bit of help from medical science. For someone who works full-time, assuming a full career from 18 to 65 working five days a week, they will give over 12,220 of those days to their employers.

That’s just at the raw level of days. Of course, not every second of each of those days is given over: but usually, the best hours are, the active alert able to perform hours. Eight hours of each of those days is given over to sleep (preparing for another day of work), another couple of hours each day are typically spent travelling to and from work, leaving the rest for eating, relaxing or meeting up with friends and family. But all the other activities are conditioned by being able to turn up to work the next day.

So, here we have the idea of the class struggle. When we give our time over to our employer, we give it to them to achieve the ends they desire. In a capitalist society that means producing commodities: good and services, which they can sell with a view to making a profit. The longer we work for them, the more they can use us, the more we do for them, the more goods and services they can sell for more profit. Thus, they will want as many days from us as they can get.

But, here’s the thing, the struggle isn’t just over days as such, it is about the very definition of ‘day’: what amounts to a day’s work? The number of hours we spend working for them increases how much they can get us to do for them. The fewer hours we work for them, the more time we have for ourselves, for our friends, families and communities.

But it’s not just the length of the day: it can also be about the intensity: working harder during the hours we give over also increases the amount of work and profits we produce for the day buyers. The harder we work at work, the less we can do in our own time, the more it becomes a time for recovery to return to work. Employment contracts are written in the language of abstracted absolute hours, but the reality is that it is what we are capable of doing – or being made to do in a day – that defines what happens to us and our employers.

Just look, for example, at the recent struggle over unionising Amazon warehouse workers. The accusation was that they were worked to such a strict regime that the staff there had to micturate into bottles because they weren’t allowed adequate comfort breaks. The intensity of the class struggle is played in the bodily functions of the workers. Amazon leads the way in the scientific study of efficiency, making sure that every ounce of effort they obtain from their employees is usefully turned to their profit. Making sure that not a second of the day’s work is wasted.

The class struggle, between the people who sell their days and the people who buy them is a struggle to define what happens to the very time we have on Earth. No amount of a rock spinning gets to define that.

Let’s make this a little more concrete. There are roughly 31 million people who are in employment in the UK. Not all of these people are full time – for instance about 3 million are ‘underemployed’ and would like more hours. That might seem strange, but given that our society makes selling your days a condition of getting access to the goods and services you need to live (and that we have to buy from the people who are buying all the days), people want to sell their days. To put that is perspective, about 9 million would like fewer hours (but preferably with the same pay).

(Just as an aside, the 31 million in employment doesn’t encompass the whole of the working class, their relatives who depend upon their sale of days are just as caught up in this system of robbery: we are looking at the vast majority of society being enmeshed in this dispute over days and what to do with days).

But let’s go back to that 31 million. Each of them will sell about 12,000 days of their lives to an employer. 31 million multiplied by 12 thousand leads to a number with more zeroes than it’s worth the breath to say: do the sums yourself, if you want to use a portion of your life on such a thing.

Think about what could be done with that number of days: our ancestors built marvels like Stonehenge with nothing more than deer antlers and lots of days of work: the benefit of all those days’ labour goes not to us, the workers, but to the owners of the world. They need us. Without our days of effort, nothing would get done; but the rewards for all that hard work goes to them, not us.

And, just to be clear, this isn’t about them under-paying us for those days or settling a fair price for them. The very fact that we sell our lives means that the priorities, the decisions about what to make and do with our time is taken away from us, and it is the priorities of the buyers that decide what goes on in the world.


One Reply to “The daily class struggle”

  1. Thanks Pik. Well stated but incomplete. The working class must organize on the industrial field, (read at their workplace) as well as on the political field. The SPGB is stuck in the political arena, trying to “walk on one leg”. The working class must have a vision of how to get ‘there’. Otherwise we’re into “divine intervention” or “miraculous conception”. Yes, the union movement world wide seems to be dominated by “a fair days wage for a fair days work” (Gompers) but unity is the only ‘rampart’ that must be breached or should we say “preached”?

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