Time & casual work

Time & casual work

Time operates on casual workers differently and further alienates them from other workers.

Time is the room of human development. A man who has no free time to dispose of, whose whole lifetime, apart from the mere physical interruptions by sleep, meals and so forth, is absorbed by his labour for the capitalist, is less than beast of burden.

- Karl Marx, Wages, Price & Profit.

In the same way that alienation affects the casual worker in multiple ways, so too does time.

Time is a commodity: we exchange our labour at an hourly rate.

The timespan to be spent at the job is either unclear or limited.

The tasks we have to perform are often time-controlled and only 1 part of a larger process.

If we need time off, we lose money.

We sign in and sign out at strictly defined times.

If we are late, we lose money

We spend time commuting to and from the job.

We often work overtime to compensate for inadequate wages.

When working, we look forward to time off.

And after work our leisure time is compromised by tiredness.

Why Work?

We exchange our time with the employer for wages and our time is a commodity that increases and decreases in price depending on the job. In Wage Labour And Capital, Marx described labour exchange as equivalent to a bag of sugar:

The capitalist, it seems, therefore buys their labour with money. They sell him their labour for money. But this is merely the appearance. In reality what they sell to the capitalist is their labour power … Labour power is, therefore, a commodity neither more nor less than sugar. The former is measured by the clock, the latter by scales.

When casual workers are contracted to the job they are told that they will be working so many weeks at a certain rate, or they may be agency workers and kept on short term contracts that are either dropped after a certain amount of time or continually renewed over a longer period of time with none of the advantages of a long term employee.

The tasks which many casual workers carry out are time controlled and they are expected to fulfil their quota, if not improve on it, within a certain number of minutes. As the tasks are tedious and the wages low, this hardly ‘incentivises’ the worker. This is hardly a new idea. In 1938, the Italian anarchist Camillo Berneri wrote that in one factory this had an adverse effect on the worker and put them under duress as the time allotted was not the time needed:

the piece must be completed in 48 seconds. The very sight of these figures puts fear into the operative. He starts to make the piece. When it is completed … it has taken him 1 min. 10 seconds.

George Woodcock pointed out that this kind of pressure has an adverse effect on the final product:

the employer, regarding time as a commodity which he has to pay for, forces the operative to maintain such a speed that his work must necessarily be skimped. Quantity rather than quality becoming the criterion.

The casual worker is also only working on 1 part of the entire process so that the system in which they are working is mystified. The job is

mere execution – execution of a fragment or a part of plan. The plan and its practical working-out have nothing to do with the operative. They are the exclusive concern of the contractor and fctory management, who alone make decisions.

(Labriola in 1931).

Illness, sick children or partners, hassle with banks and landlords all require time to deal with and this can take up valuable work hours. The casual worker has to deal with these things when possible and cannot negotiate flexi-time outside the parameters of the contract. Instead, they lose pay.

The casual worker faces stringent work practices that have been long established and are designed to punish the worker. The casual workers queue to sign in and sign out, write their names and time of arrival whilst supervised by the line managers. If the casual worker is more than a few minutes late their wages will be reduced accordingly, no matter how legitimate the reason and they are not allowed to make up time later, something which Engels wrote about half way through the 19th century.

The operative must be in the mill at half-past five in the morning; if he comes a couple of minutes too late, he is fined.

- Frederick Engels, The Condition Of The Working Class In England, 1845.

This is doubly infuriating if the casual worker has to rely on public transport which can be frequently late - and we cannot calculate how much time is spent stressed by this.

Whether his dwelling is a half-hour or a whole one removed from the factory does not concern his employer

- Frederick Engels, The Condition Of The Working Class In England, 1845.

Commuting is neither time spent profitably at work nor at leisure and can take up considerable hours of the day as well as using a percentage of our wages. The time spent commuting is neutral time; we cannot realise it as leisure time and we are not paid for the journey or subsidised for tickets. And casual workers often have to travel further to the job than full time and part time workers. The job consumes more and more of the casual workers’ time.

Life begins for him where this activity ceases, at table, in the tavern, in bed. The twelve hours labour on the other hand has no meaning … [except] as earnings, which bring him to the table, the tavern, into bed.

- Karl Marx, Wage Labour & Capital.

The casual worker is offered overtime, the attraction of which is compensation for inadequate wages with a temporarily increased rate of pay. However tempting the offer may appear to be, we may not be physically able to last that long; there may be no public transport to get us back home after; and we may simply be reluctant to spend any more time at the job than is necessary as we are already there for long enough and the work already consumes enough time through commuting and recuperation. When working, we look forward to time off and the idea of losing more of that precious time, even if it is feasible, is hardly attractive.

The working day, however, has by itself no constant limits… The more capital succeeds in prolonging the working day, the greater amount of labour it will appropriate.

- Karl Marx, Wages, Price & Profit.

After work our leisure time is compromised by exhaustion and quotidian hassle and necessity. What is left over after that is ‘our time.’ However, the irony is that we need to work in order for that time to be realised in as full a manner as possible. The more we work, the more tired we get, and even though we may be richer in financial terms, we are poorer in terms of that time being realised in a satisfactory way, i.e., too tired to enjoy our time away from work. Of course, not all pleasurable pastimes cost money: walking, time with our lovers or conversation with friends are beyond pricing - although considerably enhanced by food, drink or comfortable surroundings all of which cost money.

There is a myth that ‘time is money.’ Time is not money, money is money and you can always earn more, borrow more, steal more, unlike time.

Posted By

Dec 17 2013 14:08


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