Between February and March 1919, the workers of the La Canadiense electricity company in Barcelona, organized in the CNT union, went on strike. It was a tough fight in which the labor movement was deeply involved and which spread to other work centers until the entire city and 70% of Catalan industry were idling (and in darkness) for 44 days. The fight achieved important milestones: salary increases, reinstatement of those laid off and, for the first time in Spain, the eight-hour workday (yes, working six days a week).
One hundred years later, that triumph is fading, and not because the working day dwindles, as we might expect in hypertechnological times, but because it grows, is pulverized and that labor dust gets into all the cracks of existence. Although 40 hours per week are recognized in the Workers’ Statute, in practice there are many people who feel like work overflows that day, increases stress, diminishes mental space, as well as free time.
The right to disconnect, that is, to not be attentive to work through the Internet when we are outside the working day, is included in Spanish legislation, but not only 11% of the collective agreements signed since 2018 have it in bill
“It doesn’t give me life,” the contemporary worker splutters as he receives constant messages that urge him to break his limits, pursue his dreams and redouble his efforts. “You don’t change the world by working 40 hours a week,” he wrote. en un tuit Elon Musk, the visionary-entrepreneur from Silicon Valley. And so we go, breathless, trying to make an impact on the universe. The government of Pedro Sánchez had to impose in 2019 the time control of the working days in the companies: you had to sign in and out so that the work time did not go away from mother. According to the latest Labor Force Survey (EPA), in the second quarter of 2020, 28.8 million overtime hours were worked per month, an all-time high, and 59% of those hours were unpaid (and that without count the work of reproduction and care, which is never remunerated). You have to get involved, they tell us, give everything for the project.
“Today, people work much more and earn much less than three decades ago; in fact, the workers’ movement has lost all its political force ”, explains the Italian philosopher Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi in his book Futurability, the age of impotence and the horizon of possibility (Black Box). During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, working time was decreasing, in part due to the action of some unions that are not currently going through their best moment. There is helplessness and precariousness, deterioration of working conditions. With automation and offshoring, workers have to compete with their peers on a global scale.
“The new jobs don’t seem as robust as the old ones,” he writes. columnist Frank Bruni in The New York Times. “It takes more hours to earn the same money or maintain the same standard of living as before. Students amass debt. Upward social mobility seems more and more like a mirage, a myth ”.
The technology that hijacks our brain
But beyond the hours worked, many have the impression, especially in cognitive jobs, that work is always present, like a sinister shadow that follows us wherever we go, even if we are on a Caribbean beach. An obvious cause is technology: as soon as we open our eyes every morning we look at our smartphone, an artifact where work and personal life are quantum superimposed through messaging systems, emails and social networks. Our hitch remains throughout the day, until, at dusk, we give our phone a good night kiss and sleep again. In an endless cycle.
The economist John Maynard Keynes predicted at the beginning of the s. XX that around 2030 we would work only three hours a day, thanks to machines. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be like this
Perhaps the great resurgence of this problem occurred in 2007 when the first smartphone as we know them (surprisingly recently), that angelic and infernal device that put an invisible chain on us to keep us hooked to the network at all times. “We know that our phones absorb. We even know that their apps were designed to be addictive. We know that the utopian promises of technology – making work more efficient, strengthening connections, making photos better and more shareable, making news more accessible, easier communication – have actually created more work, more responsibility. , more opportunities to feel like a failure ”, writes American Anne Helen Petersen, author of the book Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, which describes millennials as a generation “burned out” by work.
The right to disconnect, that is, not to be attentive to work through the Internet when we are outside the working day, is established by Spanish legislation, but not taken into account, and will be crucial in the imminent future of telework massive. Only 11% of the collective agreements signed since 2018 take this into account, according to a study by Comisiones Obreras.
But wasn’t technology going to free us?
“The idea of exchanging work for leisure thanks to technology has been one of the typical stories of technological solutionism since its inception, which took place at the end of the 19th century, with the change of the old technology of coal and steam, for the oil, chemistry and electricity, already linked to large industrial corporations ”, explains Luis Alonso, Professor of Sociology at the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM). He also points out that this story was renewed with the generalization of electronics in the sixties and has been renewed in the different waves of the s. XXI: the information society, new technologies, technotronics and a long etcetera. “In these last cases, it has been associated with a neoliberal ideological matrix,” adds the sociologist.
But this expected reduction in working time never comes: “In processes of increasing commercialization, technology never limits the workload. If anything, what we achieve in this commercial framework is not changing work for leisure, but work for unemployment ”, explains Alonso. This is what we are seeing: when a machine replaces a supermarket cashier, the cashier does not go home to enjoy life, but to queue for unemployment. The workload, in the opinion of the professor, will never stop increasing if employment is not regulated by means of an express social pact. There must be that will.
Telecommuting, revelation or scam?
Teleworking seemed like the panacea before the pandemic: it would allow us to work more relaxed, save time on transportation, and spend more with family and friends. But like any object of desire, it is not so bad when it is achieved. Working at home led for many to a constant connection, in a forced learning of new computer tools and forms of organization, in a domestic chaos with children and household chores. Through WhatsApp groups, Facebook messages and tools such as Slack, work was spatially and temporally mixed with the rest of life’s facets, forming a barely digestible salad.
“We are in danger of ending up being slaves of labor 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. It is about remote work being adjusted to the working day and that work emails are prohibited outside those hours “
Belén García Romero, professor of Social and Labor Law at the University of Murcia
“We are in danger of ending up being slaves of labor 24 hours a day and 365 days a year”, explains Belén García Romero, professor of Social and Labor Law at the University of Murcia, author of the book Telework (Civitas / Thomson Reuters). According to the expert, it is important to regulate the right to disconnect in teleworking. “It is about remote work being adjusted to the working day and that work emails are prohibited outside those hours.” Many times we receive an email after hours or during the weekend: although they have written it to us so that we can see it during the working day and we do not respond to it at the time, with its mere reading it already reconnects us with the work and distances us of mental rest. “Companies have to respect the privacy and rest time of workers”, concludes the professor.
In reality, the desirable path for citizenship would be the opposite: work less and less and live better. Already the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted at the beginning of the s. XX that around 2030 we would work only three hours a day, thanks to machines. It doesn’t look like this is going to be the case: it is possible that the machines, rather than enriching everyone, enrich their owners and send the rest to unemployment lines. Although optimists say that in every technological revolution the same drama is lived, and it is overcome (more programmers and all kinds of technologists will be needed), this time it may be the definitive one, Artificial Intelligence through, and most of human work ( especially the less “creative”) ends up being useless.
“A 21st century left must set out to combat the centrality of work in contemporary life,” write Williams and Srniceck in Invent the future. Post-capitalism and a world without work (Misstep). The authors, promoters of the accelerationist movement, do not propose to improve working conditions, but to overcome it: that machines work (full automation) and that the rest of us live at their expense, through a universal basic income. They argue that it is time to end that work ethic embraced by the traditional left. Well, work does not necessarily dignify, but rather, as the Bible says, it is a divine punishment that should be freed once and for all.
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