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30 Hours are Enough

Over 6 million jobs would be created in Germany if the 33 million dependent employees worked 20 percent less. Over 100 billion Euro would be restored to state treasuries. The society is rich enough to afford wage adjustment. All that is needed is political will, not Greenspan cruelty.

Work - Working Hours - Reduction of Working Hours. A Plea for a Social Rebellion against Demolition Entrepreneurial Capitalism

By Winfred Wolf

[This article originally published in: junge Welte, August 10, 2004 is translated abridged from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.jungewelt.de/2004/09-10/003.php.]

If the current unemployment figures were cautiously adjusted to correct the most recent statistical "whitewashing", mass unemployment is now rising again - despite a modest economic growth. Mass unemployment is more than ever the central social theme and the most important factor weakening the powers championing democracy, social emancipation and socialism.

The Hartz IV laws will intensify this disintegrating process once again. Every person who is still employed sees the social depths into which he can fall. An impoverishment process threatens hundreds of thousands of unemployed persons. New possibilities are opened up to bosses for forcing employees to longer working hours without wage adjustments. Thus unemployment increases again. The chances of playing off the unemployed against "job owners" multiply.

We experience new divisions of society that are dangerous for unions and the left, divisions that cover up the true division in classes. Whoever is on the defensive and yields - like some union leaders - will trigger a spiral of weakening and lose more and more members. New renunciation orientation is encouraged.


Current capitalism mercilessly exploits the weaknesses of unions. There is no trend back to more employment. Quite the contrary. Conversely the left, unions and initiatives of the unemployed must develop their own projects and join the campaign "No to Hartz" and the new Monday demonstrations. In this situation, an expansive campaign for a far-reaching reduction of working hours with full wage adjustment could give a perspective to employed persons and the unemployed and lead out of the defensive. "Far-reaching", for example, means a reduction of working hours from 38 hours to 30 hours or around 20 percent. Such a campaign must aim from the beginning at a Europe-wide lowering of working hours.

Heinrich von Pierer (Siemens) and Jurgen Schrempp (DaimlerChrysler) are making headlines. They are successfully extorting their personnel to accept longer working hours without wage adjustment. This made sense for centuries from the view of capital.

Since only human labor creates value and wealth and is the foundation of the sudden craving for profit and profit maximization, the central question since the existence of capitalism consists in the triad: How many people in an absolute number can capital exploit (destruction of subsistence economies - for example with the eastern expansion of the European Union in Polish agriculture)? How long can the individual working day - that is the exploitation of the commodity labor - be extended (theoretically the limit is 24 hours)? How much or how little must be paid in work wage3s or how much profit created on a workday directly benefits capital or the owners of capital? The attack of bosses on working hours occurs on the basis of high profits, not on account of low profits. Enough is not enough but promotes a sudden craving.

The battle for reducing working hours should be seen in its historical context. This struggle pervades the history of the working class movement amid the simultaneous struggle for a "decent" working wage. This is always a struggle to limit exploitation in time and value. Marx explained that "the establishment of a normal workday is the result of a battle between the capitalist and the laborer over many hundreds of years." He described this struggle in his main work "Das Kapital", vol. I, ch. 7 "The Workday".

The struggle in England around the Ten-Hour-bill lasted a decade. Its partial success was cast in laws in the middle of the 19th century. In North America the battle for the eight-hour day was formulated at the 1866 working class congress in Baltimore in a classical way: "The first and great demand of the present to liberate the labor of this country from capitalist slavery is the enactment of a law whereby eight hours should constitute the normal workday in all states of the American Union." The eight-hour law was passed in Germany after the November revolution of 1918. The struggle for reduced working hours occurred after the Second World War in West Germany (in the fifties) with the campaign for the five-day week (with the patriarchal slogan "Saturday belongs to my Dad!") and in the eighties with the campaign for the 35-hour5 week. In the 1974 to 2004 period, there was only a single period in which mass unemployment in West Germany no longer rose for five years but declined, the years following the conversion of the 35-hour week. In 1986-1988, the official jobless figures stagnated in West Germany to 2.2 million. In 1989, the number fell to 2.037 million and in 1991 to 1.689 million. Since 1992 it has been rising again.


... Mass demand lagging behind production is an important crisis factor. In the propagated model, there would be considerable increased productivity since the larger number of wage earners who work less on the average could be used with higher labor productivity. "Fresh workers" would appear. The increased productive power with greater production output collides more intensely than before with the limits of "frozen" mass demand. Capital would seek investments in speculative sectors even more than before increasing orientation in exports and so forth.


Thirdly and lastly, a campaign for reduced working hours with income restraint would completely negate that enough money exists - with corporations, banks, businesses, the rich and owners of assets - to finance a full wage- and salary adjustment in the case of a 30-hour week.

In 2003 the sum of the gross wages and salaries in Germany was 909.4 billion Euro. The sum of the net wages and salaries was 588.3 billion Euro. A fifth of that sum, the income equalization up for debate, amounts to 182 billion Euro on the gross plane and 118 billion Euro per year on the net plane. An equalization on the net plane is debated, that is an equalization for income recipients, since the state and the social treasuries would be enormously relieved in the case of a hugely lower unemployment.

If the present 22.5 million dependent employees worked a fifth less, 6.7 million additional workers would be needed. This number could be less on account of further productivity advances. In any case, the official crowd of 4.5 million jobless would find employment. This would bring 100 billion Euro in savings that previously had to be paid for financing the unemployed (in supports, losses in taxes and so forth). If we add a few posts that were relieved in the last six years for businesses, the rich and owners of assets, we would have another 50 billion Euro per year to finance such a wage- and salary adjustment. The recent relief of corporations with the corporation tax cost the state 20 billion Euro per year. Abolition of taxes on the sales of corporate shares costs around ten billion Euro a year. Relief from property tax amounts to another ten billion Euro per year. The relief of the top earners through the last two stages of the tax reform amounted to another 15 billion Euro in tax reductions per year. Finally, profits are obviously at a very high level.

Now there is the argument: What should be done if a massive industry-wide capital flight occurs in the case of an effective campaign for reduced working hours with income equalization? Isn't Siemens already threatening to shift operations with around 10,000 employees to foreign countries?


This is a serious argument. The tendency to capital transfers exists anyway. This tendency already contributes to mass unemployment. The campaign to reduce working hours is a response to this. The threats with job transfers are merely threats by means of extortion. In the past, the core elements of the production of large corporations usually remained in the "mother land" of the respective business even though some "locational conditions" were more favorable elsewhere. This involved the inner relation of corporations and the nation state since these businesses drew considerable economic advantages from "their" nation or its government.

In the past, Siemens head Heinrich von Pierer traveled with chancellor Schroeder to China to bring home large-scale orders. Whether he will also do this with the Polish prime minister and whether this will be similarly effective may be rightly questioned. The campaign for reducing working hours debated in Germany will be proposed for the whole European Union. Shorter working hours are sought in an economic block that has certain outward screening mechanisms. If such a campaign occurs, the working hours will be reduced more strongly in eastern- and central Europe, Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Greece than in Germany and France. Thus the incentive for capital transfers within the EU will be reduced.

Finally, every historical improvement gained in the history of the working class movement - whether in the Ten-hour bill, social insurance or the five-day week - would never have been re3alized if people listened to those who appeared with fearsome threats. We are speaking of an historical struggle. Mass unemployment is the dreadful scourge that drives into poverty, shatters whole societies, encourages militarism, promotes new wars and ultimately puts in question a survival of the human community on planet earth.
Whoever says No to this extortion, whoever sees that the present course of things leads to an unending spiral of social dumping, mutual extortion and poverty production in the South, North, West and East must also raise questions of principle sooner or later - like the question about ownership of the social means of production and finance.


A plea for a campaign of reducing working hours is not a plea for an arbitrary bungling. It is a plea for a social rebellion against demolition entrepreneurial capitalism. When the goal of a 35-hour week with full wage and salary adjustment was advanced in the IG Metal union in the seventies, most union leaders described this goal as "unrealistic". Then when majorities were gained for this "unrealistic position" in IG Metal and other unions, the former chancellor Helmut Kohl declared this objective was "dumb, foolish and absurd". The IG Metal leader Franz Steinkuehler replied: "Mr. Kohl called our demand for the 35-hour week absurd and dumb. Respect for the office held by Mr. Kohl prevents us from rating his remark and his administration with these same words. However one thing can be said. Giving the impression of incompetence through silence would be better for Mr. Kohl than removing the last doubt by speaking."

The unions could largely r3ealize their goals at that time. The presuppositions for that success were a wide-ranging campaign and a very political, emancipatory and anti-patriarchal understanding of reduced working hours. The presupposition was also that those who waged this campaign knew that their oipponents - the employer associations, owners of great capital and the German government - had to be tackled frontally in a broad campaign. A clear language was created.

A campaign for Europe-wide reduced working hours could be developed and concretized in this sense. A new chapter in this centuries-old struggle would be opened up that Karl Marx summarized as follows: "For protection against torments, workers have to gang up and as a class force a state law, an overpowering social barrier preventing them from selling themselves and their generation into death and slavery through voluntary contracts with capital. Instead of the magnificent catalogue of `inalienable human rights', the modest Magna Charta of a legally limited workday could establish when the time that the worker sells ends and when the time belonging to himself begins."

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