The 40 Hour Work Week

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The 40 hour work week is not a permanent fixture.. Although it is now commonly accepted and people are so used to it that anything less is seen as part time when working for an employer, and  is penalized. Lower pay, no benefits, no sick time, no vacation time, no overtime pay and the list goes on.

 

The 40 hour work week came into being during the industrial revolution, when people were previously working up to 100 hours per week  on tedious, dangerous, repetitive tasks while being paid a pittance. The 40 hour week was seen as wonderful.

 

Before the industrial revolution, people worked a more nature based schedule, because many were involved in agriculture and there was also a lack of good artificial light. The work day would begin at first light and finish at last light. The work conditions were physically intensive, but at least people could work surrounded by nature rather than the miserable, dangerous, depressing and unhealthy conditions of the industrial revolution factories. When I read of the conditions that many people had to live and work in, “living death” is the only thing that I can think of.

 

There seems to have been a golden age of the employee, roughly between the early 1940s and the early 1970s. Well paid work was plentiful and while not always satisfying, it would offer a good lifestyle to many, one person could support a whole family of 4 or 5 on their pay and people seemed happier with the 40 hour work week model. I don’t know what happened, but that age is long gone. Real wages have been stagnant for a long time, while prices have risen and job security is a thing of the past. Something has messed up the benefits system where you now find that your employee medical/dental/vision insurance is becoming worthless but premiums have risen dramatically.

 

It seems that we have been in the tech revolution for a while now. Since the advent of computers, many jobs that were once considered industrial are now technology based and require fewer people and less or different skills. A good example is  the printing industry which was very labor intensive and was seen as a skilled and well paid occupation not so long ago. It required many people who specialized in different skills such as typesetters and book binders, machine operators etc. Technology has led to a 43% drop in print industry employment in the last 20 years alone. Part of this decline can be attributed to digital books and digital methods of communication, desktop publishing, where a person can now produce his/her own business cards at home, direct to press typesetting systems where a computer operator can design the print job on screen and then send the job direct to a printing press, cutting out several jobs in the process. The industry was very unionized, but even the powerful print unions couldn’t disrupt advancements in technology.

 

It seems that some time soon, we will be forced to rethink our relationship with work and the 40 hour work week. The technology to shorten the work week exists now in many areas of work but the issue is that in today’s society,  less hours mean less paycheck. Artificial intelligence and robots are developing rapidly and once an android type of machine like “data” in Star Trek can be built, it will be able to put a lot of humans out of work. There is already a lot of speculation about driverless vehicles, personal, taxis, trucks and the like. Some testing is already underway. One could speculate that a passenger aircraft could now fly itself but the public is not ready to trust such a machine yet. Pilots, don’t get too complacent and elitist about job security.

 

What can replace the 40 hour work week? What can replace work itself?.  It is not so much a question of what activities will replace work but what will allow us to earn money. Many European countries already have a less than 40 hour work week, generous vacation allowances of  a minimum 25 days and they still find that business can be profitable. A universal basic income is attractive in theory, but because humans are human, they will find a way to mess that up somehow for the benefit of a few, to the detriment of many.

 

The 40 hour week model is at least 100 years old now and probably needs to be revised. Most people dislike work and dislike being there, although there are plenty of people who can convincingly lie that they like their work, very few do. I haven’t got a solution yet,  but I think that earning money will not look like the current 40 hour week model 100 years from now. As for the androids, we will have to discover their limitations and exploit those limitations to earn a living.

 

I think that the two words that sum up the current trend is “greed” and “need”. The ones that “have” are greedy and the ones that don’t have, still need to earn that pittance in order to survive. It is up to the individual to find his/her solution to this. If you are waiting for politicians, (of any flavor) to find a solution for you, you will be waiting forever.

 

An additional thought, I acknowledge that the industrial revolution sweatshop system of production still exists in many parts of the world and I feel for them. Part of the blame is us in the developed world wanting and buying the products that are produced, and ignoring the fact that these companies have offshored their operations for only one reason, to maximize already record profits….are there any limits to greed?.

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