Britain's working week is one of the longest in Europe. Hundreds of thousands work over 50 hours a week, while record numbers of workers have switched to part-time work to avoid the poverty trap of the benefits system.
Sharing out the work would dramatically cut unemployment. The idea of a standard 35-hour week has always been attacked by employers and governments, for them 'casual' work means the employers' right to hire and fire without consequence.
The influential think-tank, the New Economics Foundation recently published its findings on the working week. They predict that a 21-hour working week will become the norm in a future capitalist society - for them however, a shorter working week is for the capitalists' benefit not the workers'.
In reality, they argue for a super-casualisation of working life, with annualised hours (they talk of working a 21-hour week or its equivalent in hours spread across a month or year). Workers will be left waiting for the call to come to work and will only get paid when the employer feels they are needed.
We must argue that the need for shorter working hours and employment for all should not be paid for by the working class, but by the giant monopolies which exploit us to line shareholders' pockets and dominate the economy. Share out the work, with no loss of pay!
There is more than enough wealth in society to make these demands a reality. The economic crisis means redundancies and repossessions for many, but it is business as usual for the super-rich, who remain super-rich at our expense.
The modest demand for a 35-hour week should form the backbone of trade union campaigns for jobs now and for future generations. If capitalism can't afford a 35 hour week or a living wage for all workers, then we can't afford capitalism!
This is one of our "transitional demands" as socialists we look to set the capitalist system targets it ultimatly cannot provide highlighting how inadequate this system based on greed is raising the contiousness of workers bringing them to the conclusions that capitalism cannot provide for us all. Yes it has advanced the way production works to a point and to a point has improved the living standards for the workers but ever since th mid 70's this has been in steady decline and working class living standards have stagnated from then on and in many cases have gone backwards. With the austerity we have now to try and eliminate the so called deficit which i prefer to call planned povety is only set to make this worse.
So this demand of a shorter working week is a reasonable demand to be making and is a sort of reformist demand but ultimatly cannot be realised under capitalism we know that but wish to highlight this and how capitalism cannot provide for all.