We Need a Shorter Workweek

Photo: Getty

If any Democratic presidential candidates are looking for the next big proposal to get one over on their rivals, the UK Labour Party just handed out a great idea: a 32-hour workweek, or the equivalent of four days a week for people who currently work eight hours a day.

Facing the prospect of a new general election in fewer than three years against one of the worst and most hated men in the entire country (not to mention his own family), Labour—under its socialist leader Jeremy Corbyn—rolled out the extremely good proposal on Monday promising a 32-workweek within the decade under a Labour government. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who would likely play the top economic role in a Corbyn government, made the announcement at a Labour Party conference:

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Obviously, there is absolutely no shortage of priorities for the labor movement in the United States at the moment. Workers need unions, and higher wages, and paid family/sick leave, and paid/mandatory vacations, and good healthcare, and a safe workplace, and a National Labor Relations Board that isn’t antagonistic to workers, and to not be misclassified as “contractors” when they’re clearly employees, and so on and so forth. All of these problems are exacerbated for the most vulnerable of workers, such as retail and service workers, who are forced to work 50, 60, and 70 hours to make ends meet.

With that being said: We are long past overdue for a shortening of the workweek. It’s been about 200 years since the first call for an eight-hour workday, and nearly 80 since Congress last amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to cap the workweek at 40 hours before time-and-a-half overtime kicked in. In the eight decades since, worker productivity has continued to increase, but wages have stagnated for the past 40 years. Countries such as Norway and France have officially adopted shorter workweeks, although the latter’s loophole-ridden law has left it vulnerable to exploitation by employers. (Still worth mentioning: Despite being one of its most vocal critics, French President Emmanuel Macron hasn’t been able to completely kill off the 35-hour workweek yet.)

Meanwhile, Americans are growing more and more unhappy. Is it any wonder? We work too goddamn much; since Gallup began polling the question in 1989, they’ve found that Americans have consistently worked an average of more than 40 hours a week every single time. In the last iteration of that poll, taken last year, they found that nearly half of Americans were working at least 45 hours a week. 

Given that this country’s government is essentially a playground for large corporations and rich people, it’s difficult to envision a world in which an actual 40-hour workweek, let alone 32 hours, is a reality here. But one thing’s for sure: A shorter workweek will definitely never happen if no one in mainstream politics raises the possibility. Your move, Democrats vying for the left-wing vote.

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