[P2P-F] Fwd: [NetworkedLabour] Fwd: [Debate-List] (Fwd) Radical leisure, less work, more commoning (Eva Swidler)

Michel Bauwens michel at p2pfoundation.net
Sat Jun 18 00:22:32 CEST 2016

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: peter waterman <peterwaterman1936 at gmail.com>
Date: Sat, Jun 18, 2016 at 12:59 AM
Subject: [NetworkedLabour] Fwd: [Debate-List] (Fwd) Radical leisure, less
work, more commoning (Eva Swidler)
To: carlintovar <carlintovar at infonegocio.net.pe>, "<
networkedlabour at lists.contrast.org>" <networkedlabour at lists.contrast.org>,
p2p-foundation <p2p-foundation at lists.ourproject.org>, "
CRITICAL-LABOUR-STUDIES at jiscmail.ac.uk" <
CRITICAL-LABOUR-STUDIES at jiscmail.ac.uk>

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Patrick Bond <pbond at mail.ngo.za>
Date: Fri, Jun 17, 2016 at 7:39 PM
Subject: [Debate-List] (Fwd) Radical leisure, less work, more commoning
(Eva Swidler)
To: "scorai at listserver.njit.edu" <scorai at listserver.njit.edu>, DEBATE <
debate-list at fahamu.org>, progeconnetwork at googlegroups.com

*Monthly Review*
Radical Leisure
by Eva Swidler <http://monthlyreview.org/author/evaswidler/>

Connections, both real and hoped for, between the labor movement and
environmentalists have been news for at least fifteen years now. The
possibility of such a connection came into wider view at the Seattle World
Trade Organization protests in 1999, when alliances between trade unionists
and other protest groups made headlines with catchy phrases like “Teamsters
for Turtles”—or, more prosaically, the “blue-green alliance,” in reference
to blue-collar workers joining with green ecological activists. Despite the
once-exciting and novel possibility being now institutionalized in such
organizations as the Labor Network for Sustainability, the Blue-Green
Alliance, and SustainLabour, the thrill seems to be gone for mainstream
environmentalist discourse, and labor has largely faded from view.

To be fair, the environmental movement has incorporated labor into its
thinking in some ways. “Green jobs” for the building trades are often cited
as a social benefit of retrofitting structures for energy efficiency or new
energy technologies, to prove that reducing energy consumption and carbon
production need not harm the working class. Environmentalists point to the
health hazards that workers face in environmentally toxic
environments—farmhands handling pesticides, workers manufacturing
chemicals, miners—as destructive to humans and the larger ecology alike. A
general willingness to campaign for workers’ rights alongside environmental
responsibility is evident, as a sort of acknowledgment of the moral
rectitude of fellow activists. Meanwhile, and in return, ecological
activists hope that workers will take up environmental issues as part of a
broad progressive agenda, creating a patchwork alliance.

Some environmentalists have even located capitalist dynamics at the heart
of contemporary environmental destruction, while nevertheless failing to
conclude that anti-capitalism is the way forward. The “voluntary
simplicity” movement, zero-growth advocates, or the Transition Town
movement all identify constant growth and ever-expanding consumption as
motors of environmental destruction. Yet none of these groups seem to see
the people whose labor enacts that destruction as key to their fight.

Union and labor activists understand the issue somewhat differently. They
recognize the connections that environmentalists draw between dangerous
work and the pollution that that work produces, or between energy
efficiency plans for buildings and the employment those plans create. But
labor often wants to claim a more central role in the fight for a
sustainable world. SustainLabour, the International Labour Foundation for
Sustainable Development, says: “Workplaces are at the center of production
and consumption, therefore they should be central locations in any effort
aimed to change production and consumption patterns at local, national and
international levels.” Yet even this organization focuses on familiar ways
of linking workers and ecological destruction: training workers on chemical
risks, campaigning for green jobs, or urging climate change researchers to
consider the most vulnerable populations in their analysis. The Blue-Green
Alliance likewise pushes for infrastructure works, efficiency initiatives,
and funding to subsidize fuel-efficient vehicle production. Such campaigns
to counter the incessantly repeated shibboleth of “jobs versus the
environment” are important, but the strain of being so reasonable appears
to have consumed labor’s radical potential: to save the planet by
challenging capitalism, profit, and even work itself.

Radicals hardly do better. In her recent bestseller *This Changes
Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate*, Naomi Klein claims the
anti-capitalist mantle of the book’s title and gives a brief shout-out to
the idea of the shorter work week as an important strategy to reduce
climate change. In interviews, she explains that shorter work weeks could
reduce the size of the economy and thus limit environmental destruction,
while still allowing for necessary production. They would also give people
more time to live in less consumptive ways—to grow kitchen gardens, or to
cook at home, or to walk and bike places instead of driving. Juliet Schor
and organizations like the Take Back Our Time Network and the New Economics
Foundation have all said the same for years. Rather than the so-called
“productivity dividend” (the greater economic capacity that results from
constant increases in worker productivity) going toward greater profits for
capitalists, or occasionally to slightly higher wages, annual increases in
worker productivity could lead to a decrease in the amount of time that
people work, while leaving the quantity of goods and services produced
unchanged. Voilà, a steady-state economy.

Unfortunately, calls for a shorter work week tend to sidestep the thorny
question of just who will make it happen. After all, a call for shrinking
economies is effectively a rejection of capitalism and the profit motive
itself—and that will take a fight. If the goal of that fight is to reduce
work hours, then workers seem like the strongest candidates to take it on.
But the discourse around the shorter work week makes no mention of a labor
movement, unions, or the working class. This vision seems to presume that
people of all classes will get together and talk to their neighbors, then
overthrow the world economy: a simplistic, just-do-it voluntarism meets
anti-capitalism. But meanwhile, the prime concerns of working-class
movements over past millennia (beyond sheer survival) have been struggles
over time and leisure, and only the working classes have ever had success
on that front. Clearly the working-class fight against work and for leisure
is a missing keystone in the struggle to defend nature against incessant

In his classic 1967 article “Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial
Capitalism,” E. P. Thompson described English workers’ everyday struggles
against the capitalist regimentation of life. Workers of many sorts
resisted the very designation of time as the proxy for work, and time
measurement as the measure of labor; people still held onto earlier,
alternative ideas of work, time, and leisure. In studying pre-capitalist
societies around the world, Marshall Sahlins and later anthropologists have
documented other cultures’ similar prioritization of a richness of social
interaction over that of material goods. In what Sahlins called the
“original affluent society,” affluence was measured by leisure rather than
by the accumulation of wealth. Building on this insight, agricultural
historians have also grown increasingly intrigued by foraging peoples who
understood the domestication of crops, but consciously chose to reject or
abandon agriculture as simply too much work, preferring their
non-agricultural lives of greater freedom—and greater free time.

In consonance with what we might call this “leisure ethic” of
pre-capitalism, which rejects the work-intensifying proclivities of bosses,
the recorded history of early capitalist production in Europe and North
America—at least outside of slavery—shows work as an integrated part of
daily life, accompanied by eating and socializing, much to the chagrin of
emerging industrialists. As Eric Wolf writes in his classic *Europe and the
People Without History*, in European economies on the eve of
industrialization, as long as industrial work was merely supplementary to
the central work of keeping a farm, and had to compete with far more
attractive recreational activities, such as holidays and family life, the
organizers of industrial production would be searching for ways to “subdue
the refractory tempers of work-people accustomed to irregular paroxysms of
diligence,” in the words of one industrialist in 1835. The working-class
life of balancing subsistence with leisure, which so irked the bourgeoisie,
incorporated just enough production for capitalists as was necessary to
satisfy a boss or tax man or to keep the wolf from the door, and no more.

The first attack on that independent working life was to create a system of
measurement of labor based on time. The clock and the accompanying constant
consciousness of time, and then the dedication of large portions of that
now-measured time purely to a distinct activity called “work,” are elements
of everyday existence that most of us can hardly fathom living without. Yet
workers fought long and hard against this imposition of the time
measurement of labor, and against the way in which designated work hours
ripped apart the fabric of daily household life, which had blended
conversation and community with economic activities.

In other words, the working classes of Europe and North America a few
centuries ago lived in a state of rough sufficiency, despite their poverty.
They refused to work simply in order to obtain more. They preferred to
honor “Saint Monday” with leisure. Only when they lost this battle against
the measurement of time and the standardization of labor did workers turn
from a fight against time to a fight *over* or *for* time—that is, to a
fight for shorter working hours.

Once self-directed labor had been replaced by industrial regimes and time
discipline had been imposed, workers still held onto the value of leisure,
making shorter hours a key demand at least as important as higher pay; Paul
Lafargue’s anti-work manifesto *The Right To Be Lazy*, published in 1883,
was a bestseller, reprinted many times and eagerly read throughout the
global labor movement. The fight for shorter hours in Europe and North
America lasted, by most reckonings, until the Second World War. Historian
Benjamin Hunnicutt has devoted much of his career to describing labor’s
fight for shorter hours in the United States, describing a series of
working-class visions of a life with greater purposes than either work or
consumption: a religious vision of the divine destiny for humans, a secular
vision of active citizenship, and ideas of self-improvement. As a result of
that persistent struggle, for more than a century after the invention of
industrial work time, work hours in the West declined steadily.

That fight for time, however, came to an end decades ago. Now those with
jobs demand higher wages instead, and perhaps even overtime work, while the
many unemployed and underemployed fight to work at all. Today the dominant
idea of a working-class agenda is to fight to be allowed to sell one’s time.

In the seventy years since organized labor gave up on shorter hours, not
only did the length of the U.S. work week bottom out, then begin a steady
climb that still continues, but labor force participation rates also rose.
Women work for pay at ever-increasing levels; the elderly work until death.
Ever-more hours work are siphoned from households, drawing in ever-more
people. Multiple economic realities, as well as complex gender dynamics and
drives toward women’s economic independence, have propelled more members of
the working class into the paid workforce. Yet beyond that, we seem to have
missed the fact that the motivating proletarian hope for a better world,
formerly defined by maximizing free time and leisure, has been increasingly
replaced by a vision of ever-expanding personal consumption.

In a curious circle, the workday once again seems less distinct from the
rest of life, without a clear division between what we owe our employer and
what belongs to us and our families; we live more and more in a world
without demarcated work and leisure. But unlike Thompson’s loitering,
sauntering, idle cottagers, who might choose to weave when pushed to it,
who spent their days in self-direction and self-determination and resented
the hours lost to paid work, this new, unbounded world is turned upside
down. It is one in which all time is potential work time, and vacations are
viewed as a theft from the boss.

Networks such as Take Back Our Time and movements such as voluntary
simplicity have tried—without much broad appeal or success—to resurrect
alternative understandings of prosperity. While undoubtedly some workers
have continued to value time over money, the public discourse of
“simplicity” has not attracted them or incorporated them. As the social
movement that created and sustained a resistance to time discipline for
centuries, and continued to fight for time once their fight against time
was lost, the absence of labor from the simplicity forum is a striking and
fatal flaw.

Labor historians—at least the few who have studied the struggle over work
time—have noted a few key points worth recalling. First, no drop in work
hours has been won without a fight by the working class. The leisure
society that was promised into the 1970s never arrived, precisely because
organized labor had abandoned the fight for shorter hours several decades
earlier. Voluntary simplicity movements, whatever their name—work-life
balance, life downsizing, slackerdom, the DIY movement—have never succeeded
in reducing work hours on a social level. As a hodgepodge of individual
actions, they fail to address the economic and social imperatives to work.

Professionals, in particular, have failed as a class to hold the line on
work intensity or work volume, and academics writing about labor provide a
prime example. With seemingly no personal experience of their own of either
individual or communal work resistance or of a leisure ethic, researchers
in labor history have been almost blind to the rejection of work, and have
shaped the labor literature accordingly.

Those activities that the few working-class studies researchers examining
the topic call “work resistance”—including drunkenness, absenteeism,
loafing, and hoboism—could be considered proletarian forms of voluntary
simplicity. Certainly capitalists have historically taken this grassroots
working-class leisure ethic as a very serious threat indeed. Cultural wars
against alcohol and laziness, legal sanctions against vagrancy, and the
psychological training of children into obedience and work discipline
through mass enforced schooling all reflect the intensity of the attack on
proletarian resistance to work.

These maneuvers historically depended on even more basic punishments and
tools, such as economic structures that threatened starvation and disaster
for those who would not work. In earlier centuries, when the fight over
time was more explicit, Western capitalists designed low pay levels to
force workers into working more hours. In later years and in other parts of
the globe, a variety of other strategies have been employed to extract work
from the unwilling, including requiring taxes or fees from subsistence
households in order to force people into participation in the cash economy,
and dispossessing people of their means of subsistence or production in
order to drive people into employment by others. Yet amidst all this
enforcement of labor, workers maintained their own vision of leisure and
independent time. This vision animated organized labor and drove the
successful trajectory of decreasing work hours until the fateful
mid-twentieth century moment when unions gave up the fight for time.

But why did organized labor stop fighting for shorter hours? No one seems
to know. Clearly this choice coincided with other deeply conservative union
developments, including purges of leftists from the ranks. A desire for
free time was even painted as an effeminate demand of the weak and women.
Whatever the causes, however, it is clear that since organized labor ceased
its push for shorter hours, work hours leveled off and then began
lengthening, despite ever-increasing worker productivity. If work time is
to be reduced again, history shows that it is workers themselves who will
have to accomplish this.

Students of the erosion of public life have focused in recent years on the
cultural “commons”—the elements of social life that we (often unthinkingly)
share, from cuisine to language to street fashion. But little has been done
to connect either the concepts of the cultural commons or public life with
the leisure ethic and the fight against work—a connection central to both

Without vital public spheres and cultures, leisure is unattractive; if and
when we become individuals without an imperative to go to work, and if we
are simultaneously without a community to be part of, we have “time on our
hands,” time to be filled, time to be “killed,” time to be “passed.” We
need to “stay busy.” When work so fills our lives and our society that we
go to work even on days off to be in the company of others; when we do not
take vacation days because we do not know what to do with ourselves outside
work; when schoolchildren eagerly anticipate returning to their hated
schools because time hangs so heavily on them in the summers; then there is
no doubt that work reduction cannot be instituted individually. An
alternate, collective, social world must co-exist with our work worlds, to
provide an alternate home, an alternate web of connections, an alternate
identity, an alternate constellation of values, activities, and purposes,
even alternate markings of time.

Circularly, the commons and the public sphere require adequate leisure. To
restore a social world independent of the market and the workplace, and to
keep the commons vital, we need the leisure time to inhabit the commons. We
also need our communities to have time to be there with us—hanging on the
porch chatting, shooting hoops at the rec center, jamming in the basement.
In other words, we need both a vital cultural commons beyond the world of
paid labor and we need a leisure ethic, a constant challenge to the very
concept and valorization of work. A leisure ethic and the public commons
depend on each other. And for both of these, collectivity is key. With the
communal revalorization of leisure, by pushing back against the constant
attempts of capital to encroach on work-free time and the unmonetized forms
of everyday life and community, we take up the most foundational struggle,
the struggle against work itself.

I’ve already noted that academic professionals, notorious for their own
ever-rising standards of work hours and productivity, have failed to
appreciate the importance of work resistance, not merely as a weapon of
class rebellion, but as an essential element of sustainability for the
planet. Similarly, they have failed to appreciate the necessity of an
ongoing community outside the workplace to advance an alternative to a
world consumed by work. Rarely experiencing membership in such an external
community themselves, they cannot imagine its centrality to breaking the
stranglehold of laboring.

Activists for the commons, however, as well as proponents of voluntary
simplicity, have zeroed in on the construction and maintenance of a shared
social world and cultural commons as vital to the planetary future. Yet
they have met with little notable popular success. Lacking a
confrontational energy, they have failed to fundamentally reject work and
work-time as we know it. This rejection has historically come successfully
from only one source—the working classes.

The organized labor movement of the moment, fighting rearguard actions
against neoliberalism, appears unable to mount such a cultural critique of
work. Likewise, simplicity advocates seem entirely unaware of the
working-class traditions of leisure, and uninterested in tapping them,
failing to promote their vision outside their world of white professionals.
Yet aside from unions, which, given a chance, might well surprise
simplicity campaigners, working-class culture at large provides a wide
wellspring of alternate conceptions of time, leisure, and the good life.

Surveying the last few centuries, it seems that there exists an undefined
but discernible critical threshold. When relatively uncolonized spaces of
everyday life and subsistence, rather than marketplace activity, prevail
among the working classes, cultivating in working people a reality and a
vision of self-determined life, capitalists must constantly use physical or
economic force to draw workers into laboring. The lure of money and success
alone failed to create a willing or self-motivated workforce in those
historical circumstances. When the uncolonized spaces of everyday life
shrank or were beaten back so much that they could no longer provide an
independent foundation for self-determination, work filled the vacuum. The
commons fell on the defensive, framed more as a missed opportunity for
profit than a source of life itself. Only a powerful impetus for shorter
work hours can reconstruct and defend the space necessary for the
resurrection of a self-determined everyday life.

Movements for shorter work hours have met with ferocious opposition from
capitalists not only because they threaten the primacy of the culture of
work, but because they threaten the very source of profit. Even
reform-minded campaigns for reduced hours are a direct attack on the basic
mechanism of extraction from the working classes. Although pushes for
higher wages attack profit as well, their focus on more money rather than
time preserves the culture of work, and has therefore proven more palatable
to capitalists. More leisure, in contrast, moves workers outside work into
a world of economic and social self-determination, and is absolutely

True leisure does require some money, and more equally distributed money.
First, leisure requires freedom from want. Starvation, homelessness, or
cold, as well as the fear of these privations, preempt any possibility of
more than momentary leisure. Second, the current levels of extreme
inequality drive consumption and credit card debt, make public and communal
efforts towards sustainability less likely to succeed, and reduce social
support for environmentally motivated decision-making. Because adequate
money and new patterns of distribution are essential to leisure, it is
clear yet again that workers must lead the way to the largely immaterial
joys of life, whether they are storytelling or music or friendships or
napping in the sun.

We need to supplant endless consumption and production for the maw of the
market, which, left unaltered, will ravage the earth to a degree presently
unimaginable. But moralistic campaigns of individual voluntary simplicity
will not suffice. Instead, we need to build, or rebuild, a shared culture
of leisure. Whether that agenda is framed as a rational plea for a
steady-state economy or as an apocalyptic battle against the cancerous
imperative of growth, it must address the reality that the planet requires
both a new economic system and a drastic reduction of material production,
which means a drastic reduction in work.

The working class is perhaps the last remaining reservoir of a culture of
leisure. The task ahead is to breathe new life into both the past and
present proletarian values of slacking, napping, and lazing. Only laborers,
and the refusal to labor, can achieve radical leisure and a future for the

Eva Swidler is an environmental political economist and social historian.
She teaches at Goddard College and the Curtis Institute of Music.

To view previous posts, create a Google account with your current email and
log in using gmail to access the archives.
You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups "
debate-list at fahamu.org" group.
To unsubscribe from this group and stop receiving emails from it, send an
email to debate-list+unsubscribe at fahamu.org.
To post to this group, send email to debate-list at fahamu.org.
Visit this group at

*Click here for Peter's recent writings*

NetworkedLabour mailing list
NetworkedLabour at lists.contrast.org

Check out the Commons Transition Plan here at: http://commonstransition.org

P2P Foundation: http://p2pfoundation.net  - http://blog.p2pfoundation.net

http://twitter.com/mbauwens; http://www.facebook.com/mbauwens

#82 on the (En)Rich list: http://enrichlist.org/the-complete-list/
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://lists.ourproject.org/pipermail/p2p-foundation/attachments/20160618/13b4b41f/attachment-0001.htm>

More information about the P2P-Foundation mailing list