A group of Labour Party members, has launched a campaign to cut the standard working week to four days rather than five, with no loss of pay.
It’s a good initiative, at a time when, for almost the first time since the early 19th century, and despite all the talk about new technologies displacing human labour, average work hours per week are now increasing.
From 1945 to the early 1980s, workers shortened their average work week at rate of about 20 minutes per year. Then the decrease slowed to five or 10 minutes a year. After 2008 progress stalled, and now it is being reversed, at the same time as retirement ages are rising and more and more working-age people are in jobs (of sorts).
Unions need to push back. And where workers do not have independent unions, as in China, they need them.
About the same time as the “Labour 4 Day Week” campaign launched, Jack Ma, boss of China’s biggest internet company, Alibaba, (and a member of the Chinese “Communist Party”) declared:
“If you join Alibaba, you should get ready to work 12 hours a day, otherwise why do you come to Alibaba? We do not need those who comfortably work 8 hours”.
He told workers they would have to toil 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week – “996” - and like it.