The Working Week
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jan 10 11:43:30 MST 2003
Against unemployment, “structural” as well as “conjunctural,” the time
is ripe to advance along with the slogan of public works, the slogan of
a sliding scale of working hours. Trade unions and other mass
organizations should bind the workers and the unemployed together in the
solidarity of mutual responsibility. On this basis all the work on hand
would then be divided among all existing workers in accordance with how
the extent of the working week is defined. The average wage of every
worker remains the same as it was under the old working week. Wages,
under a strictly guaranteed minimum, would follow the movement of
prices. It is impossible to accept any other program for the present
Leon Trotsky, The Transitional Program
NY Times, Jan. 10, 2002
Shortened Workweek Shortens French Tempers
By CRAIG S. SMITH
PARIS — Ahhh, to be French!
Marielle Saulnier, a 34-year-old radiotherapy nurse, took 10 days off to
ski in the French Alps over Easter, and three weeks to vacation in
Corsica during August. She took another week off in October to visit
museums and parks with her children during their mid-autumn school
break, and 18 more days, sprinkled throughout last year, just to relax.
She still has 35 free days saved up from past years and will take 8 of
them this month before starting again the annual cycle of vacations — 58
days, in all, not including weekends.
But is she happy?
"Not entirely," she said with a sigh, "because I'm tired."
It is doubtful the 35-hour week will be repealed any time soon, however,
and the reason has more to do with sociology than with economics. The
French already work less than people in most other developed countries —
on average, nearly 300 fewer hours a year than Americans, according to
one study — and they like it that way.
"I'd rather have a better quality of life than touch a little more
money," said Jean-Marie Gastou, 39, a Federal Express deliveryman.
France, the richest country in Europe during the 18th century, was slow
to industrialize, and so it preserved a provincial pace while many of
its neighbors, notably Germany and Britain, beavered ahead. In the 19th
century, Marxist influences helped define work as a means to achieve
leisure rather than an end, as it was to many Americans.
Some French were even taught that ambition could make them ill, said
Theodore Zeldin, a British sociologist and keen observer of French
society. Karl Marx's French son-in-law, Paul Lafargue, wrote a political
tract entitled "The Right to Idleness," which argued for a three-hour
"It fits in with a French idea of what life is about — the enjoyment of
one's senses and the company of others, sitting in the cafe watching
people go by," said Mr. Zeldin, who nevertheless cautions against facile
characterizations that ignore the country's many entrepreneurial
"Human Resources" has the distinction of being not only one of the
finest movies ever made about the labor movement, it is also
unparalleled in its ability to explain and make concrete issues that
barely receive attention in the print media, such as "just-in-time"
College student Franck (Jalil Lespert) has returned home for a summer
internship at the factory where his father Jean-Claud (Jean-Claude
Vallod) has worked for thirty years. His parents are proud of him, the
first member of the family to rise above their class. When he comes
downstairs in a stylish navy blue suit for his first day in the Human
Resources department, his parents can only beam at him.
As soon as he steps foot in the factory, he learns that his new class
status is a mixed blessing. While his father is showing him how his spot
welding machine works (this is the kind of job I held briefly 22 years
ago "colonizing" a factory in Kansas City), the foreman walks over and
bawls him out for wasting time. This is the first lesson in the young
man's education into the class realities of the factory, as opposed to
what he learned in management science at college.
As in intern, Franck is assigned to prepare a report on the feasibility
of a 35 hour week. Since this is at a lower pay rather than something
like "30 for 40", it will be a hard sell to the factory workers, who
remain suspicious of the bosses after 22 of their number were laid off
in the previous year. Throughout the movie, the bosses are always
warning the workers that unless they are profitable, the factory will
have to shut down.
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