American workers are nothing if not overworked. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans seem to spend more time at work with fewer days off than workers in any other industrialized country. With statistics like these, it may come as a surprise that work-hour insecurity, a phenomenon in which workers are systematically getting scheduled for under 40 hours per week, is an increasingly pressing issue.
Indeed, as a manual laborer, it is a problem that I see all too often. It affects not only those with whom I work with, but also with those in other “unskilled” jobs and positions. Many are forced to take up more than two jobs to get the hours needed to make ends meet.
What this reveals is a deep systemic problem which goes beyond the need for workers to be scheduled for longer hours. The issue, really, is not the amount of hours worked, but how those hours are undervalued. A friend of mine works 90 hours a week doing security and hard manual labor to support his child. His wife also works. The fact that anyone should have to work 90 hours per week for any reason is indicative of a systematic failure of our society.
The fact that one should feel financial insecurity if they work under 40 hours per week at a grueling manual labor job is absurd. These jobs are as necessary to society as they are difficult, and the pay should reflect this reality.
Where would America be without janitors, without garbage collectors, as I am, myself? These jobs help keep our streets clean and help keep widespread disease at bay. They organize our whole society, deliver our food to our doorsteps and all but escort us out of grocery stores and supermarkets.
This only serves to illuminate the colossal failure that is the American capitalist system, one which stands on the backs of average workers. This reality of work makes clear how the system views them as nothing more than commodities which can be bought and exchanged for a rate so low that they cannot even live off of it.
Our labor is undervalued to the point at which 40 hours is too often either barely enough or not enough at all. Those who own the stores and the businesses do not value this work to keep up with the cost of living, nor to set a value which can sustain people comfortably. Instead they work to make as much profit for themselves as they can.
To have work-hour insecurity in a system like this, in which our workers spend more time at work and have less vacation than anywhere else in the world, reveals a cruel and uncompromising truth to it all. Having workers clamor for more hours is a manufactured phenomenon by the business class. They keep wages low, even in the face of near-full employment, so that average Americans must grasp desperately for more and more work hours to keep themselves fed, sheltered and clothed.
This works to serve the upper classes splendidly. As laborers must do increasingly more work to live, they risk becoming perpetually exhausted, overcome by an endless fatigue which seeks to prevent them from fighting back against the parasitic system which feeds off their labor.
Workers are too often subdued by the now constant and arduous process of seeking more hours for which they can continue to work for someone else who makes far more than they do, despite the fact that they work harder. Work-hour insecurity is, above all else, a way in which the upper classes can assume even more control over American workers, who have historically had very little control to begin with.
As someone who goes to work every day, performing back-breaking tasks for hours for far too little pay, it is insulting that I should have to find more work, more hours so that I may sustain myself, when the work my coworkers and I do is so essential and grueling.
The solution, then, is not to get businesses and corporations to provide more hours for a workforce who is already so painfully overworked, but rather, to put value on the work done and the hours given. This debate is in dire need of reframing: something to think about the next time we pick up your trash.