The forty hour working week over 5 days has been commonplace in society for around 200 years. In the 1800’s most people work in manufacturing or other manual labour jobs and it was very common for people to work 100 hour weeks over 6 days.
During the Industrial Revolution activists and labour union representatives began campaigning for workers rights and working hours laws. In 1817, Robert Owen—an 18th century Welsh mill owner, coined the phrase:
Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.
With the advent of first, mechanisation and then automation, the amount of manual labour has continued to decline, but the number of hours we work stays the same.
Questions have been raised about the productiveness of the time we spend at work, and whether or not this is still necessary to get the work done.
Alongside this debate something else has emerged, the question of protecting the environment.
…the increased interest in working time reductions coincides with the emergence of powerful global movements that highlight another crisis that is facing humanity today: the depletion of resources, the degradation of our natural environments and above all the rapid heating-up of our planet. (WEF article).
The article above from the World Economic Forum highlights the fact that for decades the prioritisation of profit above all else has lead to unethical consumption, out of control waste and pollution and a degradation of the physical and mental wellbeing of workers.
At a time when freak storms and heatwaves dominate weather broadcasts and mental ill-health is at it’s highest ever level, the imperative must surely be to face these problems that fundamentally threaten our existence?
I urge you to read the article in full (link at the top), so I won’t entirely steal it’s thunder. But if you read no further I must share with you this powerful quote. It puts me in mind of the Muse song: “Unsustainable”, which I offer you as the soundtrack to today’s blog post: Muse: Unsustainable, The 2nd Law
For decades now, the sustainability debate has largely been dominated by calls for ethical consumption, rather than facing the systemic root of the problem: an economic system that prioritizes profit-making over workers’ well-being and even the preservation of the very natural basis of our collective life. To develop a sustainable economic model, it is becoming clear that we need to break with the imperatives imposed by the necessities of capital accumulation (endless “growth”) and find a way to provide a decent standard of living while honouring planetary boundaries. At the same time, our current working time and lifestyle models are deeply intertwined with a fundamentally unsustainable economy, which demands us to endure long commutes due to overpriced housing and eat carbon-intensive, frozen foods since we lack the time to prepare decent quality meals ourselves.