Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/360/5923

From The Socialist newspaper, 4 September 2004

Defending the 35-hour week

The Profit System's The Problem, Not The Workers

Minister for Europe and former trade union official Denis MacShane has recently claimed: "An obsession with the 35-hour week is now part of Europe's economic problem, not the solution."
But Bill Mullins explains here what an important gain the 35-hour week has been for workers and why the bosses are so keen to undermine it.
Roger Bannister describes how workers in Knowsley, Merseyside not only defended their working hours against attack but won a 35-hour week for all workers at the council.

"THERE IS a spectre haunting Europe" said Marx and Engels in their famous introduction to the Communist Manifesto in 1848. They were referring to the coming struggle of a rising working class, fighting against its exploitation by the capitalist class.

Now the capitalists in Germany and France have conjured up a new spectre, a massive attack on one of the biggest gains for workers in the post-war period, the 35-hour week.

Three major companies in Germany have succeeded in getting their workers to accept working longer hours for no more money. 2,000 Siemens workers were the first to go from 35 hours to 40. This was after the bosses threatened to move production to Hungary, where the average wage is 1/4 the level of western Germany.

They were closely followed by DaimlerChrysler where 6,000 workers were told that unless they agreed to go from 35 to 39 hours a week without extra pay, the bosses would move production to Bremen in north Germany and South Africa.

The third company in Germany to follow this lead was Thomas Cook who also increased hours from 35 to 40 per week.

Now other companies are lining up to follow the lead given by these three, with Dieter Hundt, the head of the German employers' organisation BDA, declaring "the three must become the norm".

Others have gone further, including the economist Hans-Werner Sinn saying: "A 42-hour week should be the norm" whilst another suggests a 50-hour week.

The bosses' offensive is now spilling over the border into France where Bosch (a German auto parts manufacturer) persuaded their French workers in Venissieux to break French law and increase their hours from 35 to 36 per week. This was after a threat to relocate the plant to the Czech Republic.

Lack of lead

What is common to all this is the lack of any lead from the tops of the German (or French) trade unions.

When they first heard what the bosses were proposing, Siemens workers took to the streets in their tens of thousands. Siemens employs 170,000 workers in Germany alone. But instead of basing themselves on this mood, the union leaders of IG Metal, the main manufacturing trade union, sought to do a deal with the bosses. They said, after the agreement was reached, that the Siemens deal was a one-off to prevent production shifting to Hungary.

It was no wonder that after this the Bosch workers in France voted to accept the boss's proposals with very little opposition.

What is the reason behind the bosses' offensive? Capitalism and globalisation.

As an editorial in the Financial Times put it on 17 July: "Globalisation has thrown employees in developed countries into competition with those working longer hours for less money elsewhere."

This "race to the bottom" where the condition of workers everywhere is driven down to the lowest common denominator is not new, it has happened throughout history. Outsourcing of work and the threat to redeploy production is just a modern version of capitalism's crisis of overproduction, which led to the growth of unemployment in the past.

The Financial Times, in the same editorial, mused on whether the old idea that as society developed its techniques of production this would lead to "a utopia ...in which machines did all the work and humankind lived a life of leisure" was valid any longer.

It reminded its mainly business readership that the American Federation of Labour in the 19th century had campaigned to reduce the working day with the slogan of: "eight hours for work, eight hours for rest and eight hours for what you will".

Perhaps this should be nailed on the door of every trade union leader, including those in Germany.

In Britain four million workers work more than 48 hours a week. We have the least holidays and the longest hours of any workers in Western Europe.

The TUC in 1978 adopted the slogan of a 35-hour week without loss of pay and called on the European TUC to do the same across Europe. German workers in particular were the keenest to fight for this demand with 200,000 steel workers going on strike for it.

British engineering workers fought a long hard battle to reduce the working week in the 1980s, building up a huge strike fund in the process. A partial victory was achieved with the working week being reduced to 39 hours in 1982.

We have to base ourselves on the fighting spirit of working people. For the last three or four years workers across Europe have fought back against the bosses' offensive. In Germany our sister party, SAV was responsible last year for instituting a massive demonstration of 100,000 workers against the Schršder government's programme of cutbacks in wages and working conditions.

The lessons of the last few months are that the union leaders will not act unless they are put under tremendous pressure from below. To do that we need a fighting programme to take into the streets and the workplaces. This should include:

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


In The Socialist 4 September 2004:

End The Occupation Of Iraq

US Imperialism Further Weakened In Iraq

Mass Protests Greets Bush And Republican Convention

Mark Thatcher And The 'Dogs Of War'


Socialist Party campaigns

Defending the 35-hour week: The Profit System's The Problem, Not The Workers

Stress At Work - The Facts

Picketing Wembley Stadium

Young workers fight to End Low Pay

Low Pay Campaign Taps Into Anger

Scottish nursery nurses: How Our Strike Changed Me

Firefighters' dispute: Employers Climb Down

We Need Your Cash!


International socialist news and analysis

Haiti: A History Of Struggle

Europride

Joe Higgins: Speaking Tour Of Australia

Che Guevara, Motorcycle Diaries, directed by Walter Salles


 

Facebook   Twitter

Home   |   The Socialist 4 September 2004   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Bookshop






Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Related links:

35-hour week:

triangleLong hours ruining health without lifting productivity

triangleMay Day 2014 - Step up the fight for a socialist world!

triangleAnswering the lies of the Con-Dems

triangleOur Demands

triangleCapitalism isn't working: Time to fight for socialist change

Profit system:

triangleBSE crisis - the madness of the profit system

triangleProfit system exacerbates flooding

triangle'Antibiotic apocalypse': profit system holds back research

triangleWorld economy: 'biggest danger to capitalism is capitalism'

Europe:

triangleSocialist inbox

triangleThem & us

triangle'Socialist case against the EU' TUSC tour kicks off

Germany:

triangleInternational news in brief

triangleSocialist Party national congress 2016

France:

triangleHackney & Islington Socialist Party: Workers fighting back in France

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns

27/5/16

Sheffield

BIS office closure: Anger and determination to fight on

27/5/16

EU

June meetings on the EU Referendum

27/5/16

Kazakhstan

Solidarity with protesters in Kazakhstan

25/5/16

UCU

University lecturers strike for fair pay

25/5/16

Wales TUC

Motion passed for no-cuts council budgets

25/5/16

NSSN

Link the strikes - come to the NSSN conference

25/5/16

BMA

Tories forced back in junior doctors' dispute

25/5/16

Union

Workplace news in brief

25/5/16

Conductors

Train conductors strike to keep their role

25/5/16

Them & Us

Them & us

25/5/16

Lancashire

Chorley A&E battle

25/5/16

Coventry

Coventry sees off EDL

25/5/16

Environment

Boris hid killer air report

25/5/16

Socialist Party

Fight to win: join the Socialists!

25/5/16

Waltham Forest

Campaigning for a people's plan for Waltham Forest

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...

triangle27 May BIS office closure: Anger and determination to fight on

triangle25 May Austria - Hofer defeated, but far-right threat remains

triangle25 May EU referendum can bring the Tories down

triangle25 May University lecturers strike for fair pay

triangle25 May Motion passed for no-cuts council budgets

triangle25 May Link the strikes - come to the NSSN conference

triangle25 May Tories forced back in junior doctors' dispute

More ...

triangle31 May Bristol TUSC: The socialist case against the EU

triangle31 May Liverpool Socialist Party: The 1916 Easter Rising

triangle31 May Chesterfield Socialist Party: Hillsborough & Orgreave

triangle1 Jun Salford Socialist Party: Leveson, Murdochgate and the press

More ...

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

Find us on Facebook

Archive

Categories

1-9 

1-9 


Archives:

May 2016

April 2016

March 2016

February 2016

January 2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999

Legal

SP RSS feed RSS

Platform setting: = No platform choice