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Work Until You Die/ and Bring Your Children

Americans work too hard. We are not exactly breaking new ground at DSOT with that statement, but even that ground-truth is questioned by some segments of political and punditry classes who claim with straight faces that America’s worker shortage is due to people's unwillingness to work. Americans are, by many metrics, some of the hardest working and most productive people in the world. Since the introduction of the standard 40-hour work week, average worker productivity has more than quadrupled, expanding profits, and growing the economy at large.

Yet the gains from that massive increase in productivity have flowed almost entirely to a very narrow subsection of the population. Since the 1970s, it’s estimated that nearly $50 trillion in wealth was funneled upward, from the working and middle cl​ass, and into the coffers of the already rich and powerful.

It seems the need for more is never sated, though, for when asked to share in this largesse by, for instance, increasing the minimum wage for the first time in 15 years, many businesses and conservative politicians cry out that any such changes would be too expensive, would cripple the economy, and would provide the wrong incentives to the working class. These benighted and paternalistic attitudes are partly why it's been 15 years since Congress raised the minimum wage, setting a record time between increases since the introduction of a federal minimum hourly wage as part of the Fair Labor and Standards Act of 1938.

For many years labor fights have often revolved around worker compensation and safety, both important material issues, but we sometime forget the political, and occasionally physical, fights which first won American labor legislation were about more than just work, but work-life balance. Here too the American people are being robbed: Americans work longer hours and have less time off than almost any industrialized society. Somewhere along the way we forgot our time is also on the bargaining table.

As the labor movement has grown stronger, and the threats of automation loom larger, work-week length reductions have reentered as a negotiation point in union contracts. The new gains in productivity and wealth from the advent of AI automation should liberate workers from toil, sharing the prosperity, instead of more and more people working harder for ever smaller bits of the pie.

Bernie Sanders recently introduced a 32 Hour Work Week legislation and unsurprisingly the hard-working American people are enthusiastically on board, with up to 64% of the country supporting the bill, including 73% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans.

Time is our most precious resource, and it seems a growing number of people are questioning how much of it we need to trade away to our jobs. Despite what some angry pundits on TV might say, this isn’t laziness. A life should not be swallowed entirely by work, there is so much more to the richness of culture, of society, of being human than even fulfilling and intellectual work can provide.

Despite its popularity we know that there is currently little hope of this legislation passing either Chamber of Congress, business interests are currently far too strong. Despite its near inevitable failure in Congress, we must remember this is a fight that is not only winnable, but also a fight that Americans of the past already won. If we want it, we must work together, building a political and economic coalition, union and not union not seen in nearly a century. So join us each Tuesday in growing solidarity as we build a future not dominated by work, where our technological advances lead to more time, and prosperity for all, not just a few.

Don't shop on Tuesday.

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