On October 24, 2015, Arthur Delaney writs on The Huffington Post:
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) thinks Americans may have forgotten about the 40-hour week.
“A hundred years ago workers took to the streets” to fight for 40 hours, Sanders told The Huffington Post. “And a hundred years have come and gone, we’ve seen an explosion in technology, we’ve seen an explosion in productivity, we have a great global economy, and what do you have? The vast majority of people are working longer hours for lower wages.”
American workers with full-time jobs work an average of 42.7 hours per week, according to thelatest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Including part-timers in the calculation puts the average American workweek at 39 hours.
Sanders said he wants to appropriate the term “family values” from Republicans, who have historically used it to talk about social issues, and use it to promote legislation mandating paid vacation, paid sick days and paid parental leave for U.S. workers. Just 11 percent of workers had access to paid leave to care for newborns in 2012, according to the BLS.
“What the Republicans talk about when they speak of family values is to deny a woman the right to control her own body, to deny a woman the right to get contraceptives, opposition to gay rights and gay marriage,” Sanders said. “I don’t think those are family values.”
Last week Sanders introduced a bill that would require employers to give at least 10 paid vacation days annually to any employees who have worked at the company for at least a year.
“What our legislation says — and we think this is absolutely a family value — is that a mom and a dad should have the right to at least a couple of weeks off of paid vacation so they can spend quality time with their kids,” Sanders said.
Republicans control Congress, and they aren’t keen on shortening work hours. They have complained bitterly, for instance, that President Barack Obama’s health care law undermines the 40-hour week. The Congressional Budget Office reported in 2014 that the Affordable Care Act could result in some Americans choosing to work less because they could get health insurance without being tied to a full-time job.
American workers did indeed fight and die for shorter hours, which for a long time was the foremost demand of the labor movement. The shorter hours movement culminated in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, a federal law that established the minimum wage and requires employers to give workers extra pay when they work more than 40 hours per week. The effectiveness of the law has eroded, however, because the law only protects salaried workers earning less than $23,660 per year.
“What that means if you were a quote-unquote supervisor at McDonald’s, making $25,000 a year, $28,000 a year, and you are supervising some other people flipping hamburgers and you’re working 50 or 60 hours a week, you do not get overtime,” Sanders said.
Sanders and other Democrats have asked Obama to consider raising the salary threshold so it covers more workers, something the White House is currently considering. Sanders wants to see the threshold set at $57,000.
“That means everybody making under that would get time and a half when they work more than 40 hours a week,” he said. “Very important step forward.”
The underlying reason that people who are employed are working longer hours for less wages is because they are OWNED by their ownership-class employers, who advantage themselves with the threat of layoffs and firings. In essence, increasingly workers are forced to take lower wages and work longer hours or they face termination.
While working conditions for the labor force have, of course, improved over the years, the economic quality of life for the majority of Americans has trailed far behind the technical capabilities of the economy to produce creature comforts, and even further behind the desires of consumers to live economically better lives. The missing link is that most of those unproduced goods, products and services can be produced only through the non-human means of production––physical capital––and the people who need wealth-creating, income-producing capital assets have no opportunity to earn income from capital ownership. Thus, they remain wage slaves, welfare slaves, consumer debt slaves and charity slaves.
The stark reality is that we are in a depression reflected in rising “real” (not statistical) unemployment and underemployment and instability that we will never escape from until we change our economic policy. Increasingly, more Americans will not be able to ever purchase a home, due to the packed inflationary wage and welfare base factored into the cost of building homes, which inflate prices, and will be forced to rent their entire life or depend on government living assistance––not able to accumulate equity that can help to sustain them in their retirement years. And this is the new reality now facing people in the middle class. The uncertainty of holding onto a good job is frightening to an increasingly wider base of middle-class working citizens. When you factor in the average non-salaried worker, even with a government-mandated minimum labor wage rate of $10.00+ per hour in some states and cities, the outcome is grim. Never mind that consumer demand continues to dwindle because of insufficient income, solely tied to labor worker wages. The impact of the decline in consumer demand due to declining labor worker wages is that production will decline or desist without sustainable consumer demand. Furthermore, those corporations growing the economy, both nationally and globally, will expand globally with investment in new productive capital projects and seek “customers with money” abroad.
This is all coming about because we have severely mismatched the power to produce with the possession of unsatisfied needs and wants. Those capital owners who have unsatisfied needs and wants have ready access through conventional finance to get as much or more productive capital as they want. Our tax laws are designed to further benefit the 1 percent by providing enormous write-offs and credits to producers (corporations) who are owned by the few, who already produce more than they can consume. Those who have only their labor power and its precarious value held up by coercive rigging and who desperately need capital ownership to enable them to be capital workers as well as labor workers to have a way to earn more income, cannot satisfy their unsatisfied needs and wants. With only access to labor wages, the 99 percenters will continue, in desperation, to demand more and more pay for the same or less work, as their input is exponentially replaced by productive capital.
But if we change direction and systematically build earning power into consumers, we have the opportunity to reverse the depression perpetrated by systematically limiting the 99 percent to labor wages alone and through technology eliminating their jobs. We need solutions to grow the economy in ways that create productive jobs and widespread equity sharing. We need to systematically make insured, interest-free capital credit to purchase capital accessible to economically underpowered people (the 99 percent) in which the income from the capital investment is isolated until it pays for itself, and then begins to produce a stream of dividend income to the new capitalists. This can only be accomplished by enabling every person to have access to capital ownership and purchase the capital, and pay for it out of what the capital produces. It’s time good and well-intentioned people woke up and adopted a Just Third Way paradigm (http://cesj.org/learn/just-third-way/) beyond the greed model of monopoly, “hoggist” capitalism and the envy model of the traditional welfare state. This will promote peace, prosperity, and freedom through harmonious justice.