Saturday, December 03, 2011

working hours

The fight to discipline peasants into proletarians is indeed interesting. One of capitalism's myths is that it has reduced human toil yet Bushmen work two-and-a-half days per week and on average the working day was less than five hours.

In the Middle Ages hours of work was tied to the seasons and the number of holidays and fairs were many. Work was intermittent - called to a halt for breakfast, lunch, the customary afternoon nap, and dinner with also mid-morning and mid-afternoon refreshment breaks. The medieval workday was probably not more than eight hours. Days off in medieval England took up probably about one-third of the year. And the English were apparently working harder than their neighbors. In France they were guaranteed fifty-two Sundays, ninety rest days, and thirty-eight holidays. In Spain holidays totalled five months per year.

13th century - Adult male peasant, U.K.: 1620 hours
Calculated from Gregory Clark's estimate of 150 days per family, assumes 12 hours per day, 135 days per year for adult male ("Impatience, Poverty, and Open Field Agriculture", mimeo, 1986)

14th century - Casual laborer, U.K.: 1440 hours
Calculated from Nora Ritchie's estimate of 120 days per year. Assumes 12-hour day. ("Labour conditions in Essex in the reign of Richard II", in E.M. Carus-Wilson, ed., Essays in Economic History, vol. II, London: Edward Arnold, 1962).

Middle ages - English worker: 2309 hours
Juliet Schor's estime of average medieval laborer working two-thirds of the year at 9.5 hours per day

1400-1600 - Farmer-miner, adult male, U.K.: 1980 hours
Calculated from Ian Blanchard's estimate of 180 days per year. Assumes 11-hour day ("Labour productivity and work psychology in the English mining industry, 1400-1600", Economic History Review 31, 23 (1978).

But for capitalism , there was a financial incentive to maximize the return on expensive machinery by having long hours, twelve to sixteen hours per day, six to seven days per week were practiced. Cottage handicraft workers learned to fear and hate factory work and its pace of work and degree of discipline. Clocks, not daylight or weather established work patterns. Workers often attempted to observed "Holy Monday" to lengthen the weekend

1840 - Average worker, U.K.: 3105-3588 hours
Based on 69-hour week; hours from W.S. Woytinsky, "Hours of labor," in Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. III (New York: Macmillan, 1935). Low estimate assumes 45 week year, high one assumes 52 week year

1850 - Average worker, U.S.: 3150-3650 hours
Based on 70-hour week; hours from Joseph Zeisel, "The workweek in American industry, 1850-1956", Monthly Labor Review 81, 23-29 (1958). Low estimate assumes 45 week year, high one assumes 52 week year

Workers have simply recovered what they had four or five centuries ago and but who are now under threat once again of losing.

1987 - Average worker, U.S.: 1949 hours
From The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, by Juliet B. Schor, Table 2.4

1988 - Manufacturing workers, U.K.: 1856 hours
Calculated from Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Office of Productivity and Technology

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