Thursday, January 24, 2013

Capitalism at work: US workers fall further behind

by Richard Mellor

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reckons more than 40 million Americans aren’t getting enough sleep, that’s 30% of the civilian workforce and researchers at Harvard Medical School say “sleep deprivation costs US companies $63.2 billion in lost productivity per year.”

Well, that’s a problem, lost production. The bosses have a new word for it, not absenteeism but “presenteeism” people making it to work but being too sleep deprived for them to extract sufficient surplus value from their Labor power------big problem indeed. Capitalists, the purchasers of Labor power don’t put people to work out of the kindness of their hearts, their profits come from surplus value, the difference between the value of the capital involved in the Labor process (work) and the value of the product produced by it, a product that he or she is the rightful owner of.

So a worker not performing up to par cuts in to their profits.  "If we treated machinery like we treat the human body, there would be breakdowns all the time," James Maas, a former Cornell University psychologist tells the WSJ.  We know that throughout history, workers have always been treated as machinery or like any other object owned by its purchaser.  Capitalism has been no different as the Dickensian world of Victorian England; the textile mills of New England, the mines of Bolivia and factories of Asia today show us.

Forming collective associations won better conditions for workers but as we are witnessing presently, the bosses are forever seeking ways to increase the exploitation of Labor, it’s the way the system works.

There’s a general perception that, “sleep is for sissies and lingerers,” the Journal writes.  But this mentality doesn’t arise from thin air.  This view is quite strong in the US as is the idea that we should be open 24/7 and eat our breakfast on the run or never take sick days or holidays.  Time spent from work is surplus value lost.

The big business media boasts of the superior productivity of US workers.  But we are more productive because we spend more time on the job.  We are away from home, away from or families, own less of our own time than workers in practically all of the major advanced capitalist economies.

In 1960, 20% of mothers worked.  By 2010 70% of American children lived in households where all adults arte employed according to the Center for American Progress.   One aspect of this is that despite advances made by women, most of the child rearing and household work still falls to them.

In addition, according to the CAP:

The U.S. is the ONLY country in the Americas without a national paid parental leave benefit. The average is over 12 weeks of paid leave anywhere other than Europe and over 20 weeks in Europe.

Zero industrialized nations are without a mandatory option for new parents to take parental leave. That is, except for the United States.

Here are some other causes of sleep deprivation in the US:
At least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the workweek; the U.S. does not.

In the U.S., 85.8 percent of males and 66.5 percent of females work more than 40 hours per week.

According to the ILO, “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.”

Using data by the U.S. BLS, the average productivity per American worker has increased 400% since 1950. One way to look at that is that it should only take one-quarter the work hours, or 11 hours per week, to afford the same standard of living as a worker in 1950 (or our standard of living should be 4 times higher). Is that the case? Obviously not. Someone is profiting, it’s just not the average American worker.

American Paid Vacation Time & Sick Time:
There is not a federal law requiring paid sick days in the United States.

The U.S. remains the only industrialized country in the world that has no legally mandated annual leave.

In every country included except Canada and Japan (and the U.S., which averages 13 days/per year), workers get at least 20 paid vacation days.  In France and Finland, they get 30 – an entire month off, paid, every year.

When we add to this incredibly fast paced and competitive existence, the insecurity, inequality and lack of social services, it is no wonder people can’t sleep at night.  This generally unhealthy environment, being subjected to endless ads and living in a 24 hour marketplace pressed to buy the commodities produced in every corner of the globe in order that the owners of capital can realize the wealth from the unpaid Labor that they contain within them, it is this that makes us sick in so many ways, even to the point of violence.

How disgusting are the ads we see now of young 12 year olds telling two other 8 year olds how they “have it made” because they can download something faster from their phones or “record four shows at once”. Is this really happiness? Civilization?

One of the primary factors in the increased exploitation and “squeezing” of more productivity for less pay from workers in this country is the decline in Union power and the complete capitulation by the heads of organized Labor to the laws of the market.  The 1984 AFL-CIO platform to the Democratic Party Convention called for shorter working hours.  A 32 or 30-hour workweek with no loss in pay is not in the lexicon of the Labor hierarchy who have abandoned any pretense of fighting back against this offensive of capitalism.

But this would be a very first and basic step in reducing the stress people face in their lives.  This will have to be fought for by the mass movement, but we must at least overcome the obstacle in our own consciousness that tells us it is unrealistic or society cannot afford it.  Like the discussions between the two Wall Street Parties on what they call the budgetary crisis, or the crisis of stress and sleeplessness that overwhelm America n workers, the only solutions on their table are those that improve their ability to make profit. 

Freedom isn’t an I Phone or the fact that you can own a Harley, a 42” TV or a pistol. Freedom is controlling our work life and collectively owning the means of producing what we need; it’s having power in the workplace.  Instead of life beginning after work it should begin at work.  “Man is born to labor and the bird to fly” it says in the book of Job.  Humans produce things of use, that’s what we do, what we’ve always done and we’ve done it most efficiently as a collective.  Without production there is no life.  But until workers of all types and nations control production, how we produce our needs, what we produce, and how we distribute the products of our labor, it is not an exaggeration to say that life as we know it will cease on this planet. 

Not getting enough sleep will be the least of our problems.

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