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Modern Times Ancient Hours: Working Lives in the Twenty-First Century
     

Modern Times Ancient Hours: Working Lives in the Twenty-First Century

by Pietro Basso, Giacomo Donis (Editor)
 

Working ever more intensely, at a faster pace and for longer hours, the modern working class needs to renew its struggle

It is a commonly expressed view that the sickness of our society is unemployment. Less frequently argued is the fact that this same society is suffering from overwork. And less frequently still that in our capitalist market society the

Overview

Working ever more intensely, at a faster pace and for longer hours, the modern working class needs to renew its struggle

It is a commonly expressed view that the sickness of our society is unemployment. Less frequently argued is the fact that this same society is suffering from overwork. And less frequently still that in our capitalist market society the two sicknesses, unemployment and overwork, feed off one another and jointly attack the working classes of the world.

Pietro Basso’s thesis is that the average working time of wage labourers is now more intense, fast-paced, “flexible” and longer than at any time in recent history. This is true, he argues, not only in industry and agriculture, but also, and particularly, in “services.” It is also increasingly true for all Western countries and not just the USA. The introduction of the thirty-five-hour working week in France notwithstanding, all the signs of a creeping deterioration in the working lives of millions of people are evident: a reduction in the purchasing power of wages, the mass downsizing of corporations, the continual erosion of company and state-ensured benefits, and the availability of much cheaper labour from Latin America, Asia, Africa and eastern Europe.

Modern Times, Ancient Hours combines a theoretical explanation of the causes of this “paradoxical” evolution of working hours with an impressively broad range of empirical documentation, making the book a highly significant and timely contribution to the study of the way in which most people’s working lives are now lived. The book also reminds us that the human aspiration to do work that does not break the body or the spirit is universal and deep-rooted. Workers will rise, Basso argues, if they continue to be pushed beyond their limits.

Editorial Reviews

Mike Davis
“As Basso emphasizes in this urgent and authoritative investigation, nothing is more corrosive of social solidarity than the ‘American disease’ of longer work hours and greater economic inequality. The Third World, as he so powerfully documents, is in our own frontyard.”
Saskia Sassen
“Basso navigates through a vast scholarly landscape without ever losing track of his question: what does the shaping of work hours tell us about capitalism? A compelling mix of erudition and politics.”
From the Publisher
“As Basso emphasizes in this urgent and authoritative investigation, nothing is more corrosive of social solidarity than the ‘American disease’ of longer work hours and greater economic inequality. The Third World, as he so powerfully documents, is in our own frontyard.”
—Mike Davis

“Basso navigates through a vast scholarly landscape without ever losing track of his question: what does the shaping of work hours tell us about capitalism? A compelling mix of erudition and politics.”
—Saskia Sassen

Publishers Weekly
Increased leisure time is supposedly one of the hallmarks of a modern economy, but this biting polemic argues that unfortunately, this isn't true. Drawing on a wealth of statistical data, Basso shows that in recent decades, despite productivity gains, work hours have held steady in the developed world, and have even crept up in the United States and Japan. In the newly industrializing countries, 19th-century conditions prevail, with 12-hour workdays the standard, and some Vietnamese factory workers pulling shifts of 24 straight hours. The pace and "density" of work have also increased as automation and "just-in-time" production techniques wring every second of downtime from the hectic workday. Meanwhile, the dwindling of free time and the spread of night and weekend work and irregularly scheduled shifts have wrought havoc with family and social life. These problems have been treated elsewhere, particularly in Juliet Schor's The Overworked American, which Basso cites. He adds a Marxist interpretation: the trend toward overwork, he asserts, is an ineluctable feature of capitalism; whatever leisure time we enjoy has come through the efforts of the labor movement. Basso writes just like Marx, for good and ill. His prose sometimes flounders in Marxist cant. But he also has a broad conception of the interpenetration of economy and society, and directs a scabrous wit at the sacred cows of management theory (especially incisive is his critique of "Toyotaism," as he calls the "totalitarian" regimen of the supposedly harmonious Japanese workplace). His vision of the enduring struggle between capitalists, who view time as a brute factor of production, and workers, for whom it is life itself, raises a formidable challenge to the reigning orthodoxies of neo-liberal market ideology. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781859845653
Publisher:
Verso Books
Publication date:
05/19/2003
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Pietro Basso is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Masters course in Immigration at the University of Venice, Italy. His works include Disoccupati e stato (The Unemployed and the State), Raize schiave e razze signore: Vecchi e nuovi razzismi (Slave Races and Master Races: Racism Past and Present), and, co-edited with F. Perocco, Immigrazione e trasformazione delta societa (Immigration and the Transformation of Society).

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