Saturday, 13 February 2010

'Why should I let the toad work squat on my life?'

Listening to Radio 4's 'Today' programme over breakfast this morning, I learnt that the New Economics Foundation is recommending a working week of no more than 21 hours as a way of solving many of our contemporary social problems: overwork, unemployment, environmental depletion, and so on. With a working week of 21 hours we would, the NEF argues, again have time and leisure to be good parents and good citizens.

Yes indeed! But we have been here before, with the Manifesto of the Socialist League in 1885 arguing rousingly that after the revolution 'every man will ... receive the full value of his labour, without deduction for the profit of a master, and as all will have to work, and the waste now incurred by the pursuit of profit will be at an end, the amount of labour necessary for every individual to perform in order to carry on the essential work of the world will be reduced to something like two or three hours daily; so that every one will have abundant leisure for following intellectual or other pursuits congenial to his nature'.

'Fantasyland economics' was the kneejerk Establishment response to the NEF's suggestion on this morning's radio. Well, it is indeed utopian, and all the better for that. Morris's Socialist League felt that it could point immediately at the social agent - the organised working class - which could bring such desirable changes about. Our task is to find and mobilise such agents of change in our own, much more complex present.

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