Working day and work hours : over-work is a slow killer!

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series 8 hours work day

The Limits of the working day

Working Day Limit

“Apart from natural exhaustion through age, &c., I must be able on the morrow to work with the same normal amount of force, health and freshness as to-day”

….the working-day has a maximum limit. It cannot be prolonged beyond a certain point.

This maximum limit is conditioned by two things.

  1. First, by the physical bounds of labour-power. Within the 24 hours of the natural day a man can expend only a definite quantity of his vital force. A horse, in like manner, can only work from day to day, 8 hours. During part of the day this force must rest, sleep; during another part the man has to satisfy other physical needs, to feed, wash, and clothe himself.
  2. Besides these purely physical limitations, the extension of the working-day encounters moral ones. The labourer needs time for satisfying his intellectual and social wants, the extent and number of which are conditioned by the general state of social advancement.

The variation of the working-day fluctuates, therefore, within physical and social bounds. But both these limiting conditions are of a very elastic nature, and allow the greatest latitude. So we find working-days of 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 hours, i.e., of the most different lengths.

Corporates want the working day to be as long as possible

Working Day

But, what is a working-day? At all events, less than a natural day. By how much?

The capitalist [corporate] has bought the labour-power [employee] at its day-rate. To him its use-value belongs during one working-day. He has thus acquired the right to make the labourer [employee] work for him during one day. But, what is a working-day? At all events, less than a natural day. By how much?

The capitalist [corporate] has his own views of this ultima Thule [the outermost limit], the necessary limit of the working-day. As capitalist, he is only capital personified. His soul is the soul of capital. But capital has one single life impulse, the tendency to create value [revenue] and surplus-value [profit], to make its constant factor, the means of production, absorb the greatest possible amount of surplus-labour [profit making work].

Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks. The time during which the labourer works, is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labour-power he has purchased of him.

If the labourer consumes his disposable time for himself, he robs the capitalist [company]. The capitalist [company] then takes his stand on the law of the exchange of commodities. He, like all other buyers, seeks to get the greatest possible benefit out of the use-value of his commodity.

Employees wants the working day to be restricted to reasonable limits

Working Day

“I will each day spend, set in motion, put into action only as much of it as is compatible with its normal duration, and healthy development.”

Suddenly the voice of the labourer [employee], which had been stifled in the storm and stress of the process of production, rises:

“The commodity that I have sold to you differs from the crowd of other commodities, in that its use creates value, and a value greater than its own. That is why you bought it.

That which on your side appears a spontaneous expansion of capital, is on mine extra expenditure of labour-power. You and I know on the market only one law, that of the exchange of commodities. And the consumption of the commodity belongs not to the seller who parts with it, but to the buyer, who acquires it. To you, therefore, belongs the use of my daily labour-power.

But by means of the price that you pay for it each day, I must be able to reproduce it daily, and to sell it again. Apart from natural exhaustion through age, &c., I must be able on the morrow to work with the same normal amount of force, health and freshness as to-day.

You preach to me constantly the gospel of “saving” and “abstinence.” Good! I will, like a sensible saving owner, husband my sole wealth, labour-power, and abstain from all foolish waste of it. I will each day spend, set in motion, put into action only as much of it as is compatible with its normal duration, and healthy development.

Working Hour

“The use of my labour-power and the spoliation of it are quite different things”

By an unlimited extension of the working-day, you may in one day use up a quantity of labour-power greater than I can restore in three. What you gain in labour I lose in substance.

The use of my labour-power and the spoliation of it are quite different things. If the average time that (doing a reasonable amount of work) an average labourer can live, is 30 years, the value of my labour-power, which you pay me from day to day is 1/(365×30) or 1/10950 of its total value. But if you consume it in 10 years, you pay me daily 1/10950 instead of 1/3650 of its total value, i.e., only 1/3 of its daily value, and you rob me, therefore, every day of 2/3 of the value of my commodity.

You pay me for one day’s labour-power, whilst you use that of 3 days. That is against our contract and the law of exchanges.

I demand, therefore, a working-day of normal length, and I demand it without any appeal to your heart, for in money matters sentiment is out of place.

You may be a model citizen, perhaps a member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and in the odour of sanctity to boot; but the thing that you represent face to face with me has no heart in its breast. That which seems to throb there is my own heart-beating. I demand the normal working-day because I, like every other seller, demand the value of my commodity.”

The length of working day is determined as the result of a struggle between corporates and employees

Working Day

the nature of the exchange of commodities itself imposes no limit to the working-day

We see then, that, apart from extremely elastic bounds, the nature of the exchange of commodities itself imposes no limit to the working-day, no limit to surplus-labour.

The capitalist [corporate] maintains his rights as a purchaser when he tries to make the working-day as long as possible, and to make, whenever possible, two working-days out of one.

On the other hand, the peculiar nature of the commodity sold implies a limit to its consumption by the purchaser, and the labourer [employee] maintains his right as seller when he wishes to reduce the working-day to one of definite normal duration.

There is here, therefore, an antinomy, right against right, both equally bearing the seal of the law of exchanges. Between equal rights force decides.

Hence is it that in the history of capitalist production, the determination of what is a working-day, presents itself as the result of a struggle, a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists [corporates], and collective labour [employee unions], i.e., the working-class.

from Capital Volume 1, Chapter X – The Working Day – Section 1 The Limits of the Working-Day
[sub headings added and terms used in IT sector provided in square brackets]

Series Navigation<< “Workday is only for 8 hours” – CTS concedes! NDLF Succeeds!

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1 comment

    • Kabi on June 2, 2017 at 6:48 pm
    • Reply

    Message to all IT folks ( who thinks the industry practices are unfair and we are being ill treated ) – Just gather courage , get together in large numbers ( all IC role people + the tech managers – who are all in receiving end ) and bunk work by a week to protest in front of respective labor dept. I strongly believe, companies can’t afford the delay in work completion as it may hamper their goodwill and come to your foot unconditionally.

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