The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

A Shorter Work Week, If the Working Class Fights for It!

Apr 8, 2024

What follows is the editorial that appeared on the front of all SPARK’s workplace newsletters during the week of April 1st, 2024.

Bernie Sanders introduced a bill into the Senate that would make standard a 32-hour work week with no loss in pay. Sanders called in Shawn Fain, president of the United Auto Workers Union (UAW), to speak in support of this bill at a Congressional hearing.

That is not some pipe dream or pie in the sky. It could easily be done. It would be totally possible for workers today to work even less than 32 hours and get paid even more than the same 40-hour pay. Workers in the U.S. today are 400% more productive than they were in the 1950s. This big increase in productivity should allow every worker to live a much more rewarding life. We could work 10 hours a week and have four times as much vacation time. We could be making much more money and retiring much earlier. The increase in worker productivity makes such things possible.

But things are going in the opposite direction. Workers are working longer hours for pay that is falling further behind prices. Vacations and pensions are disappearing. Workers are being pushed through speedup to work harder. Our lives are getting worse. That is happening because the benefits of increased worker productivity are not going to the workers, they are going into the profits and pockets of a handful of people—the corporate owners on Wall Street. Today, 756 individuals have a total wealth of 4.5 TRILLION Dollars. These 756 people and their families have a wealth equal to almost 20% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP)—wealth that is produced by hundreds of millions of workers. For workers to get what we deserve, it would mean reducing the profits stolen by the wealthy few.

Sanders says that the answer is for the government to address this inequality and that his “32 for 40” bill will do that. Fain, in his testimony, cited Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt as someone who stood on the side of the workers. Both of them are spreading illusions and hiding the reality.

Perhaps the government could take from the wealthy and give to the working class. But this government, whether controlled by Republicans or Democrats, has never done so. Both parties have always stood on the side of the wealthy and the capitalist class.

The Republicans have always been known for being on the side of big business. And the Democrats? In the 1930s, Congress had a bill similar to Sanders’ for a 30-hour work week. This bill never passed, even though Roosevelt was president and the Democrats controlled Congress. In the 90 years since then, neither party has ever passed such a bill.

Franklin Roosevelt has often been cited by union leaders like Fain as a president who did things for workers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Shortly after Roosevelt was first elected in 1932, the working class began to fight against the low wages and unemployment of the Great Depression. There were strikes across the country, and a militant working class struck fear into the capitalists and the politicians who represented them. Roosevelt pushed legislation recognizing that workers have the right to organize unions—something that the workers had already been doing by mobilizing their own forces. In 1933, Roosevelt told workers, “No aggression is necessary now to attain these rights.” Roosevelt meant strikes. These strikes by workers were threatening to go way beyond just a fight to attain legal recognition for their unions. The massive strike waves of this time period had the possibility of threatening the whole capitalist system. Roosevelt and the other politicians had the goal of trying to stop these strikes by promising to pass some laws and convince workers to put their faith in the politicians and the government.

Today, by proposing legislation for “32 for 40,” Sanders is telling workers that the government will do something it has never done. Fain had put “32 for 40” as a demand in the auto contract, but he never proposed for workers to make the all-out fight it would take. Fain instead held back the UAW strike against the auto companies and quickly dropped the “32 for 40” demand. Today, both Fain and Sanders are trying to convince workers to put their faith in the Democratic Party.

But a real fight for a shorter work week, a fight for a better future, is possible only when the working class puts its faith in its own power, not in any politicians or legislation. The working class will have to bring forth its own leaders who are ready to lead this fight.