We are unlikely to spend our final moments regretting that we didn’t spend sufficient of our lives chained to a desk. We might as a substitute discover ourselves rueing the time we didn’t spend watching our kids develop, or with our family members, or travelling, or on the cultural or spare time activities that deliver us happiness. Alas: the common full-time British worker works 42 hours per week, properly over a 3rd of the time we’re awake. A few of our all too treasured time is being stolen: British staff do round two billion hours of unpaid time beyond regulation annually. So this can be very welcome that Labour’s John McDonnell has approached eminent economist Lord Skidelsky to go an inquiry into probably slicing the working week to 4 days. It ought to be a part of a brand new campaign for the left: of defending and increasing private freedom.
The champions of free market fundamentalism promised their creed would deliver us freedom. However it wasn’t freedom in any respect: from the dearth of safe, reasonably priced housing to rising job insecurity and rising private debt, the person is trapped. 9 a long time in the past, John Maynard Keynes predicted that technological advances and rising productiveness would imply that we’d be working a 15-hour week by now: that concentrate on has been considerably missed.
Right here is essentially the most pernicious menace to our private freedom, notably because the stability of energy within the office has been shifted so dramatically from employee to boss. An enormous portion of our lives includes the give up of our freedom and private autonomy. It’s time by which we’re directed by the wants and whims of others, and denied the precise to make our personal selections. It’s unhealthy for us: it’s hardly stunning that over half one million staff endure from work-related psychological well being situations annually, or that 15.four million working days had been misplaced to work-related stress final yr, a leap of almost 1 / 4.
Sure, there are those that, removed from being overworked, really search extra hours. However a shorter working week would allow us to redistribute hours from the overworked to the underworked. Lord Skidelsky’s inquiry would wish to take a look at slicing the working week with out slashing residing requirements: in spite of everything, Britain’s staff have already suffered the worst squeeze in wages because the Napoleonic wars. However slicing the working week would free the person, giving tens of millions of staff extra time to spend as they see match. Human freedom ought to be the core intention of recent socialism. The fitting to work much less can be an act of liberation – and a trigger the left ought to embrace.
• Owen Jones is a Guardian columnist