The Summertime Blues: Working More For Less

The summertime is advertised as the perfect months to spend more time with family and friends. Many workers save their vacation every year knowing that their children are out of school and have more free time. Others wait all year to travel back to the places where their families live, some perhaps only seeing their families once a year. This year many workers are being forced to cancel plans to travel or to even take time off. As we all know from our own lives, and when the news mentions it once in awhile, there are fewer workers at every workplace and yet the amount of work that has to be done has actually gone up. So, getting time off for a vacation is even harder and it usually means even more work for the rest of us who don’t get time off.

Corporations avoid hiring more workers by pushing the extra work onto the workers already hired. This tactic is called a “speed-up” and all indications show clearly that we are speeding up. Workers in the U.S. work on average an extra ten weeks a year compared to their German counterparts. Our wages have declined by 1.1 percent since the start of 2007 and yet the amount of work each worker does has increased by over six percent. The last time each worker was doing this much more work was in 1929.

We see examples of this in every industry and in every country. Teachers are being laid off and those that are still teaching are being required to teach larger classrooms and for less pay. Bus drivers have seen their wages cut and work hours increase. Nurses are being asked to treat more patients and cover more medical stations, sometimes as much as three times what’s normal. Break times are being shortened. Workers often either work through their break or just eat their lunch while staying at their station. The list is endless.

For many of us the speed up is difficult to notice because it has been added so slowly. While there are instances of bosses telling workers that they have to do more than one job, what typically happens is managers tell us that times are tough and we all have to do a little more. This little more adds up over a period of time, and so each year we are doing more than the year before.

Another defense the bosses use is the idea that we are lucky to have a job and shouldn’t complain if there is a little extra work. In fact, the idea of complaining about having to do too much work is frowned upon amongst most workers. None of us want others to think we are lazy or are slackers.  This has led many to quietly accept extra duties, which over a three-year period has meant we are doing the work of two or three people.

For those of us in the working class this doesn’t come as a huge surprise. We have all been under attack the last few years. We have watched as people retire and aren’t replaced. When people call in sick or take vacation and their shift isn’t covered. Everyday we feel the pressure of the mounting work that only seems to grow with each passing day.

In reality the joblessness and the speed up that has followed is easily fixed. If we are working on average an extra ten weeks a year, it seems simple to hire more people and have them do this extra work. Right?

Well that may sound like a sensible solution to the people doing the work but to the bosses this would be unacceptable. At the same time as we are being pushed to do more, corporations are reporting record profits. Last year, corporations made the most profits ever recorded in U.S. history. When the politicians say the economy is recovering and growing again – what they mean is that profits are being made, and that’s it. The corporations are only interested in squeezing every possible cent from us. The idea of hiring more people to ease the burden on the workers is a threat to them. It is a threat to their profits, their way of life, their entire system.

That’s what this recession and speed up have shown clearly; that the system we live in is based on the exploitation of millions for the benefit of a few. It works for them – not for us. It’s about time we made it work for us.