Friday 24 February slipped by undistinguished from any other day for most workers, who remained unaware that the day had been designated ‘Work Your Proper Hours Day’ by the TUC. Following research that showed that “nearly five million employees (4,759,000) last year worked, on average, over a day’s unpaid overtime a week” , the TUC calculated that employers saved a total of £23bn in wages thanks to this unpaid overtime in 2005.
What then was the response of the TUC, the leading workers’ protection organisation, to this robbery? It called a day of action, or rather activities. Via the official website, workers were offered a selection of pastimes such as a quiz on unpaid overtime or postcards and posters that could be downloaded and passed out to colleagues etc. They were also exhorted to take a full lunch break and leave work on time that day … there was even a ‘bossagram’ with which to send bosses an anonymous email “first thing on Friday 24 February telling them of the TUC ‘activity’ and advising them to take their staff to lunch or for a coffee or cocktail after work to say thanks for their effort”.
Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the TUC, in a press release on 16 February said: “Work Your Proper Hours Day is a light-hearted way of encouraging staff and managers to think about how they can work together to take on the UK’s damaging long hours culture.” So much for the social-democratic ‘defenders of the workers’, from whom we can expect only exhortations to workers to collude with employers and reject all militancy, especially Marxism Leninism.
Some may wonder what all the fuss is about when much unpaid overtime is often carried out by well-paid managers. It is true that corporate managers and senior officials top the list compiled by the TUC of workers, working unpaid overtime averaging 12 hours per week (HPW), but teaching professionals come a close second with a massive 11.36 HPW on average. Meanwhile, food preparation trades including butchers, bakers and cooks are listed as averaging 7.54 HPW, assemblers and routine workers including factory workers come in at 7.48 HPW, health professionals including doctors, dentists, vets and pharmacists average 7.06 HPW (the average for junior doctors on their own might have been interesting), construction trades including plumbers, brickies, joiners etc average 5.06 HPW, dockers and warehouse workers average 4.00 HPW, nurses and midwives etc average 3.42 HPW, nursing auxiliaries and care workers average 3.12 HPW, and nursery nurses and classroom assistants average 3.12 HPW in unpaid overtime.
From these figures it can be seen that this problem cuts across all sections of workers to a greater or lesser extent and deserves to be dealt with seriously and honestly rather than with trivial tricks. Of course, there are examples of unpaid labour given freely within a socialist system, such as the subbotniks in the Soviet Union, who were of great benefit to the whole society and who were rightly lauded, but under capitalistic conditions unpaid overtime can only be of benefit to the individual employer, who seeks to increase profitability at the expense of the workforce. Employers are quite willing to do away with paid overtime, and even to reduce normal working hours, if greater mechanisation or a lack of demand mean that workers are not needed. This is not done for the benefit of the workers, however, but in the interests of maximum profit; even part-time workers will very often find themselves working unpaid overtime, since that is always in the interests of the capitalists’ bottom line!
Once any meaningful and serious consideration is given to the issue of unpaid overtime, it is only a short step to looking at the whole system of wages, under which workers are systematically robbed every day by capitalists, who keep the difference between the value created by their labour and the value of the wages they receive in remuneration. As Lenin put it in his article ‘The three sources and three component parts of Marxism’: “the worker uses one part of the labour day to cover the expense of maintaining himself and his family (wages), while the other part of the day the worker toils without remuneration, creating surplus value for the capitalist, the source of profit, the source of the wealth of the capitalist class”.
This is the reason our opportunists of the TUC content themselves with “light-hearted” fun days; they are as terrified as the bourgeoisie of serious debate around these questions, since their own positions of privilege can only be maintained while capitalism exists. Communists, on the other hand, welcome the opportunity to lay bare the secrets of capitalist exploitation and, in so doing, help to arm the workers with the understanding they need to overthrow the decrepit wages system and replace it with socialism.