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Cut the working hours, not the jobs!
IN 1982, the official unemployment figure topped three million for the first time since the 1930s. Then came almost a decade of redundancies and industrial battles as work shifted away from manufacturing and towards the financial sector - the eye of today's economic storm.
For the 2.5 million unemployed today and for those facing redundancies, an organised fightback against all job cuts is as urgent now as it was then.
Whoever wins the general election, workers, trade unionists and socialists have to prepare now to mount a determined struggle to defend jobs and working conditions. We must oppose attempts to pass on the bill for this crisis through public sector cuts or through redundancies and closures in the name of 'efficiency', 'modernisation' and cries of poverty from millionaire shareholders and employers.
Struggles to defend jobs should go hand in hand with socialist demands such as a massive job creation programme, investment in socially useful work including the development of renewable energies and a massive building programme of affordable housing. We should demand a living wage for all, without exemptions and for the available work to be shared out for the benefit of all.
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!
In The Socialist 3 March 2010:
Youth fight for jobs
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
The Socialist Interview
Socialist Party women
Socialist Party feature