Toward Democratic Eco-socialism
as the Next World System

12. Meaningful Work and Shortening
the Work Week

Book cover: Global Capitalism and Climate Change: The Need for an Alternative World System by Hans A. Baer

Socialism is committed to the notion of unalienated, fulfilling, or meaningful work. Satisfying work contributes to positive self-esteem and a sense that one is contributing to society and one's fellow human beings. For most people, unemployment can be psychologically devastating. Even for people over the traditional retirement age of sixty to sixty-five, depending upon the country in question, work or employment can be a fulfilling and meaningful activity. A shorter work week would permit everyone to be employed and thus eliminate the 'industrial reserve army', which is an inherent feature of capitalist economies but should not occur in a socialist system. What Juliet Schor [1991] describes in The Overworked American applies more or less equally to Australian culture, despite the stereotype of Aussies being a laid-back people. Even though Australian workers pioneered the eight-hour work day, albeit in the mid-nineteenth century when the work week was six days rather than five days, many full-time employed Australians today are working over eight hours a day.

Book cover: Everyday Environmentalism by Alex Loftus

It is difficult or impossible to say what would be the optimal work week. To some degree this would vary from individual to individual. Marx characterized humans as Homo Faber or 'Man the worker', but he was thinking of unalienated labor where work and play are intricately interwoven, as is often the case in foraging societies. In The German Ideology, Marx and Engels [1845] envisioned a society where one would be able 'to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner'. In a sense, working life would never totally end as long as a person had the mental and physical capacity, and the desire to engage in it. Thus, people should be given that option of phasing into 'retirement' rather than simply going from full-time employment to full-time retirement. Work under socialism and particularly under communism will, in essence, contribute to human development and allow people to achieve their full potential.

Copyright © 2016

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