May 1st marked International Workers’ Day. Across the world, protests and celebrations took place to highlight the importance of labourers and the working classes. Remembering the initial fight for the 8-hour day by the labour union movement in the 19th century, workers take this time to think about how far we have come, and what challenges an increasingly modern and complex society raises for workers today.
In this piece we are going to explore some key campaigns within the labour movement. From 8 hour working days to 4 day weeks, the labour movement has evolved as society has shifted and developed. In this new world of increased technology, globalisation, gender pay gaps and zero hour contracts, what does the labour movement look like?
The 8 hour day or the 4 day week?
The 8 hour day movement arose in the 18th century in the midst of the Industrial Revolution. Through the tireless campaigning of workers who were working 14 or 16 hour days coupled with searing political critiques about the growth of the working class, the 8 hour working day was only fully ratified in 1919.
Fast forward 100 years and the topic of working hours has re-emerged in a new campaign: the campaign for the four day week. This campaign builds on the foundations formed by the labour movement in the 18th century and argues that a four day week will decrease unemployment, increase productivity, and improve the nation’s health. Companies from across the world are testing this out, and the results have been increased productivity, increased wellbeing, and a decrease in staff turnover.
To take a look at the 4 day week campaign, visit their website here: https://www.4dayweek.co.uk/
Universal basic income?
The world of work is ever changing. Through globalisation and increasing automation, people are left in a state of deep uncertainty about the stability of their employment and wages.
One answer to this uncertainty has been to introduce universal basic income. That is, to give everybody, regardless of whether or not they are in employment, a weekly, no-strings-attached income. This isn’t just some utopian ideal though, it has been tested by countries across the world, the most recent being Finland.
In early 2017, Finland ran a pilot of a universal basic income scheme. Targeting a random group of 2,000 unemployed people, the Finnish government handed over 560 euros a month with no conditions to them. This month Finland’s finance minister rejected Universal Basic Income. There has been much debate to the success of the Finland model.
To read more about the Basic Income campaign in the UK, take a look at their site here. https://www.basicincome.org.uk/
The Fight for $15
Across the world, workers whose labour is being exploited gather to demand their rights – with varying levels of success. Often, the precarious position of workers means that such demands come with the risk of losing a job altogether. This threat of receiving no pay beyond the hours of strike action is the reason that Picturehouse workers in London have just called off their 13 day planned strike.
The Fight for $15 movement has been a powerful force of underpaid workers banding together to demand change. Back in 2012, two hundred fast food workers in New York staged a strike to demand $15 an hour. Now, they’re a global movement and have resulted in the rise of 22 million people’s wages across the US.
To find out more about the Fight for $15, visit their site here: https://fightfor15.org/about-us/
There has been an increasing pushback against traditional working conditions. Campaigns like #workthatworks and #hirememyway encourage flexible working environments. Citing the economic benefits and increased retention rate by employers that allow for flexible working conditions, these campaigns call for companies to rethink their employment structures to allow for greater inclusion of those who can’t work a traditional ‘full time job’. On top of flexible hours, there have been campaigns to committed to removing the stigma of mental health in the workplace. The Time to Change campaign encourages employers to commit to changing how they act in the workplace, bringing in workplace champions, and offering free resources for those who wish to speak to their employers.
To find out more about these campaigns, visit:
The labour movement is in a state of flux as it navigates this increasingly complex world. We’re seeing the development of a movement that demanded the very foundations for the workforce we have today into a movement that is taking up space in economic and political discourse. It’s a movement that is interweaving a vast range of experiences into their demands, and it is ready at all times to adapt to this increasingly connected world.
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