Sunday, September 26, 2004

Forced Labor in the US

Americans Working More than Peasants in medieval times.

Harvard Study


The 'Take Back Your Time Day' organization ( estimates that on average Americans work nearly nine full weeks or 350 hours longer than their peers in Western Europe.  Working Americans average a little over two weeks of vacation a year,
Europeans five-six. Among the demands of the Take Back Your Time movement are three weeks minimum annual paid leave for all American workers.

Why are Americans working such grueling hours?  The decline of labor unions is surely a factor, but as Teresa Brennan argues in Globalization and its Terrors: Daily Life in the West, the theft of time is a structural condition of capitalist globalization.  There is an ongoing tension, she writes, "between the speed of production and the way that the reproduction of natural resources, including labor-power, cannot keep pace with that speed."

The costs of reproducing labor power through investments in health, education and social welfare become a "drag on the speed with which profits could be made."  Capitalism tries to resolve this tension by substituting speed and space for the time it takes to regenerate people and things, moving elsewhere after exhausting local resources.

Meanwhile, the mounting technological speed of production leads to what Brennan calls bioderegulation. "The faster the machine can go, the greater the temptation to make all components of production (including human labor) perform at the same pace."  In trying to keep up with this speed, the mind/body problem becomes a problem of the mind telling the body to "deregulate" - to go without adequate sleep, nutrition, and leisure. The result is psychological stress and stress-related illnesses, and the breakdown of community.


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