A Case for the Shorter Workweek

Mark Dimondstein

July 17, 2023

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(This article first appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

The Luddite movement was born in England in the early 1800s. It mobilized workers to destroy and sabotage new machinery of the Industrial Revolution that was threatening jobs. Not surprisingly, the Luddites failed to stop the march of technology.

New technology has changed postal work over the years. I was hired on the Letter Sorter Machine (LSM), a mechanized piece of equipment that replaced about 80 manual clerks with a crew of 18 operators. LSMs no longer exist, replaced with bar code technology and automation. Two workers on a Delivery Bar Code Sorter sort more letters per hour than an entire LSM crew did. Much of what is driving management’s network modernization plan is automation.

Workers worldwide are now staring down the barrel of a new technological “revolution” with the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI).

It is predicted that AI technology could shockingly eliminate one-third of jobs in the U.S. In addition, it has many negative implications for how we think, learn, write, interact, and obtain information.

One of the main answers to this challenge is to build working class power, and to launch and win the fight for a shorter workweek with no loss of pay. I was proud that the APWU brought such a resolution to the 2022 AFL-CIO convention in Philadelphia. Below are my comments introducing the resolution.

“I rise to introduce a resolution addressing the vital issue of working hours and what must be the labor movement’s fight to secure a shorter working week with no loss of pay. This is not a new fight, but should be a continuing one.

U.S. workers’ struggle for shorter working hours is nearly as old the country itself. And it started here, in Philadelphia, when in 1791, organized carpenters struck the city, demanding a 10-hour workday, a reduction from the sunup to sundown schedule normal at the time…

In 1866 the National Labor Union passed a resolution saying ‘The first and great necessity of the present to free labor of this country from capitalist slavery, is the passing of a law by which eight hours shall be the normal working day... We are resolved to put forth all our strength until this glorious result is achieved.’

And our modern movement takes inspiration from the struggles for the shorter workweek at Haymarket in 1886, and those leaders murdered by the government for their audacity to demand “eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what you will.” And it was this struggle for the eight-hour day that led to the creation of May Day, the international holiday of the working class.

But once we secured the eight-hour day and 40-hour workweek through generations of struggle, the labor movement largely abandoned the fight for the shorter workweek. We now witness increased work hours with forced overtime, workers compelled to work multiple jobs, and an increase in the retirement age. The issue of long working hours was a key driver of some of the recent militant strikes.

Instead of liberating workers, the rapid advances of automation and artificial intelligence are being used to enrich the profits of corporate America and Wall Street, cause more unemployment, and less job opportunities for coming generations. Last year corporate profits surged to a record $3 trillion…

Workers deserve better. We deserve more for our time at work, and we deserve more time away from work to enjoy our families, strengthen our communities, appreciate and protect the wonders of our planet, and to build a working-class movement that secures justice for all workers.”

The resolution passed overwhelmingly, as did a similar resolution at the 2022 APWU National Convention. It is up to us, and all unions, to move this struggle from words to actions – in contract negotiations, with political allies, and in the streets. Let’s get to work - a brighter future for workers depends on it. ■


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