Travailler Deux Heures Par Jour

To Work Two Hours a Day

Reviewed/Translated by Frog


Writing goes against the grain: it is Work. Reading is pleasure : I am a reader. Yet this book, To Work Two Hours A Day, is in French. Its topic is important, this Work, as we spend too much of our short lives at work, or commuting and ironing our business suits or skirts. So I make it my task to tell you about Travailler Deux Heures Par Jour.

Published in 1977, it is the effort of a collective named Adret, which means the sunny side of a mountain, just as does the "Yang" of "Yin and Yang" fame. The first half is comprised of five "Tales Of Toil" from all walks of worklife: the "3/8," "Paris-Cheques," a longshoreman, a secretary and a metal worker whose worklife started at age 14 in 1928. I read these tales in one happy sitting. Their insights echo my own twenty years of toil. Issues of time and money, necessities and gadgetry are raised. Here is a translation from "3/8": "When you're at work, you have a certain security, you really don't have anything more to do in life, you have nothing left to do, everything is taken care of for you; you know that when you come out of work, your wife will prepare dinner, you will eat, sleep, you see, there is no initiative left. If you need something, you have a bit of money, you will "gadgetize" yourself to the max ... You will run after money which in the end doesn't buy you time, this money. The rationalization is that they [gadgets] help save time, but you don't save time, you lose a lot of it: to save maybe 10 minutes on daily actions you will lose one hour a day at work to pay for it, it's completely mad."

And he is enviously describing the life of workers with 9-5 rhythms. When I worked at Teledyne Waterpik in Ft. Collins, Co., you signed up for first shift, which paid the least, or second (swing) or third (graveyard) which paid the most. That became your regular schedule. In France the "3/8" means that your schedule shifts from first to second to graveyard with no control on your part. Because of his 3/8 status, night becomes day and family ceases to exist. This is his comment on sexuality: "Let's not talk about it; it's complete misery because one is pooped. I talked to fellow workers, they said working 48 hours a week in 3/8 they can't get it up or else 'like dogs when you can manage it.' Why? Let's say you work in the morning, in the evening you'd like to give it a try but you think, 'if I fuck, I'll lose time, after love you can't just fall asleep because you have an affective relationship with that person, it will take an hour, so an hour less of sleep, you see, bang, it disappears. Or in the morning you wake up, you feel up to something, but no, you have to go to work."

Eh? Does it not echo our common experience (cf. the quantification of work in issue #24)? And why? Because it is necessary? That is what this book attempts to debunk. Take into account production, consumption, creativity, organization (as in hierarchy) and leisure as we know it. What are the trends?

Returning to the book, we take up "Paris-Cheques," which is—you guessed it—all about a dumb job moving paperwork along its way: checks in this case. I like what she has to say: "If I free myself from a job I dislike, I'll do something else at home which fulfills me better, for later and for people around me: I learn more reading books or watching films. Raising kids, it's wanting to have things to tell them. If you get up at 5 you come back exhausted; rapidly straighten the beds, throw food together any old way; the kids come back from school and you're completely wiped out. Next day you start at 13:00 hours [1:00 p.m.] so you hurry to do the chores at home. You get back around nine so you really need a relay to take care of the kids, [therefore another] person, a father. My husband takes off at 8:00 a.m. and comes back at 7:15 every day. He'd take care of the kid [I think she went from several children to one because her situation has changed and she is remembering an earlier experience], bathtime, fix his meal, put him to bed. Me, I'd get in afterwards, I'd eat alone. It's crazy this lifestyle. Anyway I consider it to be an insufferable aggression at any rate.

"Especially for a stupid job. I don't know the percentage of people doing dumb jobs. With us, it's not hard labor but it's a stupid job: to move around paperwork ceaselessly. Everything could be simpler; for example these days we spend most of our time tracking down writers of bad checks. The legislation cuts down people without accounting for the real condition surrounding the cashing of the checks. If the great majority of people writing bad checks are folks with very small jobs (incomes), it's perhaps because something is wrong and it's probably totally worthless to spend hours tracking them down and threatening them with Zeus' own thunder. When you say this at work, you are once more suspect. I said ‘Me too, I write bad checks. There are days you can't make do. There's no shame. What can I do? Prostitute myself to make it? No, I'd rather write a bad check and keep integrity.’ (Laughs) I don't think it's totally stupid to say this."

In passing I might note that studies showed that in 1970, 50% of Parisian women said that they had prostituted themselves, at one time or another, to make do. Another angle of male economic and sexual power.

A law passed in 1971 was to affect "Paris-Cheques'" life— women with kids under 12 can opt for part-time work with certain guarantees. But it's part-time work for part-time pay, of course. So if your man earns better than average, perhaps you can afford the pay. If you're alone, forget it.

"Women are required to raise their kids in inhuman conditions: get up at 5 a.m. with 2, 2 1/2 hours of commute time. Most give birth in a tired state. It's difficult to raise kids while working: they think it's always been that way and always will be."

But thanks to the law of '71 and a husband who earns a bit more, "Paris-Cheques" ends on a high note—sort of.

"The women at work tell me: "But what would you do with an extra free day? I don't even know how to go to the movies alone!' As far as they're concerned, if I am not either at home or at work I'm obviously cruising the street. ... You have coffee, next to you is someone who feels like having a conversation, who can have had a cool experience and it stops there. That's life. Or listening to some guy play jazz in the street: that's pleasure. They [the women] have lost even the pleasure, the joy: one denies oneself joy and after the weekend gets drunk or runs away in one's car towards who knows what, eventually to die ..."

The next voice is that of a longshoreman at St. Nazaire.

"Our work is different: you're not hired by the month, you don't work everyday; you work when there are boats. ... What do you do when there's no work? You stay at the port, you punch in; there is a registration line, you stand there, get your `non-work indemnity,' 64 francs a day, our guaranteed [by the union] wage. ... 64F is not enough. You need a guaranteed salary of at least 100F. ... Afterwards you do what you want.

"You have a bit of freedom in your work; if I don't feel like working tomorrow and I want to get the 64F, I stay in the back of the hall at hiring time, I don't go up front, I know there are enough longshoremen for the job. And I'll get my 64F ... Mind you, when you work you get paid more, usually 130, 140F."

He goes on to describe a physically tough job, and the differences between dockers' demands and union perceptions of what workers' demands ["revendication"] should be. "Me, I'm, all for mechanization; I swear I'd rather have a machine do my job, otherwise at night ... I'm dead with fatigue."

And in the case of a boat full of toxics, the end result is that if you fight successfully through the unions—who get a middleman's cut out of it—you get just as poisoned as before but with a danger duty pay. Hope your widow likes it.

So a partial answer is mechanization and guaranteed pay for unnecessary human labor. "So we fought for mechanization to avoid hand labor. It was hard because the union always proposed raises or a reduction of the tonnage handled daily to earn full pay. There were many of us saying: 'The beef is not with raises, it's with automation.'"

The answer of the unions to this demand for automation is to bemoan the loss of employment. Here is the repartee of the dockers of St. Nazaire: "We told them: 'If today, there are 20 of us working on a boat, they must pay 20; and if 2 are enough, so much the better, we don't care—they still have to pay 20. "

What does he have to say about a two-hour workday?

"Two hours a day, of course you can't demand that. But it's a nice image to say we work too much today. I agree. Only what seems important is to not empty schedule reduction from its context of struggle. ...

"If the reduction of worktime is not obtained through a struggle that prefigures a society of the future that we want, it's empty, empty as a balloon.

"The society you want, it does not exist anywhere; mine either or we wouldn't be here discussing it at the same table, heh? (Laughter) No more in the USSR than anywhere else."

Hey, I agree with the longshoreman's thinking on mechanization entirely. The purpose of mechanization is to free people from hard labor. Slowly we're getting there. This is certainly not done to starve them—ourselves—or the future of our kids. But we're doing that, too, and fast. So what would you—and you—and me prefer? I can only tell you about me: no cars, organized and far-reaching free public transportation, neighborhoods, trees, birds, old people, the end of hierarchy, the beginning of an economy based on the needs of the people, equal sharing of resources including ourselves. I am a utopian. Survival needs utopia. I get real tired of the "human nature" argument. Sure, there are assholes. But society exists for the purpose of survival, and haven't we all seen deep kindness here and there? So if you cultivate this selflessness and structure your society to take care of people, you will see the kindness grow. Take care of the big five—shelter, food, clothing, education and medical care first. With two hours of daily work you have time to build your own house, tend your garden, tell tales and play games with the kids, have a sex life, and get enough sleep to stay healthy.

The longshoreman's story was a great read. This guy gets to take a day off (with less than minimum pay admittedly) but he thinks that 2 hours a day is too much to ask for? I say "Nyet!" There is a big distinction between work and pleasure in our society. You work for pay, the rest doesn't count—it is invisible work. As for pleasure, you pay for it or it is unrecognized—except for sex, but sex is just another way to make bucks thanks to our weird perception of the "act." We can change that perception and the differentiation between work and play. We can refuse given ideas, old racism and sexism and especially nationalism. We could grow up if we put our minds to it. This calls for a nurturing environment, not the rat cages in a lab we have been working on since before WW II.

Work and pleasure are intertwined—good sex equals a good workout doesn't it? So does gardening, cooking, carpentry, hacking.

What's boring for you may be a pleasure to me. Did you know some people like cleaning houses (I've met one). We can share the tasks, take care of the basics because they have to be the priority. But we have to do it at a maximum level, not at all like Britain on the dole with a pole tax added.

I'll get off the soapbox now and go on translating —and for free, because it's a joy to be able to tell you a bit about a French book many of you can't read on your own. It's also work. I sacrifice free time to it after being robbed of 11 hours a day to pay landlord and grocer.

The fourth tale of toil is that of a secretary in a scientific university environment. It's called "Reflections of a secretary looking for meaning in her work." It's bleak. Her conclusion is all in favor of two hours a day:

"Those of us who got out of the home to go to work, because it was a necessity to survive, to get their so-called pocket money, or to be economically independent, warned the others: "We were riveted to the god-damned secretarial pool or to the assembly line and that's not salvation.' Men are chained too."

Her postscript mentions that her boring 9-5 in conjunction with the book project of Adret was hard; drawn to think of her better world, she chafed at the bit even more and she offered this parting quote by Fourier: "You start by telling yourself that it is impossible in order to avoid having to attempt it, and it really becomes impossible because you do not attempt it."

The final tale of toil is from a fellow who started working in 1928 at the age 14 as an apprentice locksmith. He has a very historical perspective: The work week was Monday through Saturday, 12 hours a day in summer, 10 in winter because electricity was too expensive; you stopped work after dark. On days when a work inspector was said to be checking the county, instead of working 10 or 12 hours, we worked only 8 but it didn't happen very often: once a year."

"Locksmith" argues that despite the longer hours and the lack of what we consider to be basic comforts—bathrooms, heating, etc.—people were happier in 1928 than they were in 1977. People were more integrated within their neighborhoods and at work. Back then, you'll remember, you stayed at the same job for decades, you weren't expected, as today, to climb the ladder with lateral moves. So inevitably you developed relationships, you sunk in roots.

"Locksmith" is interested indeed by the collectivity, the neighborhood: "Then for 10 years I was a member of the popular family movement. It was a workers' organization wishing to accomplish for working class families, workers outside of work, and consumers, what the unions had accomplished in the work environment: to take your own destiny in hand. It was a fascinating life, we did great stuff. For example, cultivation in common. There were 10 of us, we talked of this communal truck garden project, called a meeting. Perhaps a 150 people showed up. We talked about our plans: to get the right to cultivate certain lands through city hall and then take charge ourselves, workers, together, to cultivate them, turn over the dirt, plant and harvest. They were workers, most of them had never done this. At the meeting, people asked `Who will do this and this?' `Well, it's you, it's all of us together.' Well, then people said `but it's crazy.' After an entire afternoon of discussion a few accepted."

They got 52 acres and allotted them to the neighborhoods closest to the scattered tracts and organized work parties to take care of the tasks. As "Locksmith" mentions, the success of the project was helped by the times: it was WW II, food was scarce, unemployment was high, commerce was disrupted. Yet "locksmith" ran into the problem of having to motivate people, a task which we know to be difficult at Processed World.

"How many people, when you give them a responsible task, say `I'll never be able to do it!' People very often do not feel capable of a task when you speak theoretically about it. To start them on their way, you must give them a concrete task, at their level, congruent with their lifestyle. But what's really terrible in work organization is: why don't people think anymore? Why don't they take responsibilities anymore? Because everything is predigested, even the simplest things. Very often workers know more than managers, still they don't have the right [to express their opinion,] there is no place where they can express their intelligence, they are used to having no responsibility. It's frightening to see how work organization doesn't take account of people and their intelligence. So intelligence not used to being employed becomes lazy. There are people who end up not taking interest in anything because their intelligence is never called upon."

"Locksmith" has many more interesting things to say but I would have to translate the whole book. Let me finish with something close to my heart.

"I sometimes scandalize French people when I tell them that as far as I'm concerned, Arabs are more civilized than Parisians. Very often people understand civilization to mean the degree of technical development. Me, I call civilization the way in which people treat each other. I often use this example: [In Algeria] I sometimes got in difficulty in the back country [bled], I couldn't get back home. Well, a whole village who had never seen me before was at my service. It was a struggle as to who would have the honorable task of lodging me, feeding me. If there was only a bed or a mat, it was mine, others slept on the ground. There are hundreds of North Africans arriving in Paris daily who have no place to stay. Where do they sleep? On the pavement."

"Liberate the Schedules!" is the title of the second part of the book. It presents arguments in favor of a utopian societal projection of each self; it analyzes attitudes towards "tied work" as opposed to "free work" (tied to your job or free to work at home?). The author is a theoretical physicist who decided to drop out: "It all stemmed for me from a single question: What was the meaning of my scientific activities which led me obstinately to pursue the exploration of increasingly distant worlds, when the `real' problems, those affecting the evolution of humanity, remained outside the walls of the scientific institution despite their urgency. Alexander Grothendieck, who posed this question four years ago [1972] answered for himself. He abandoned mathematics—where he is considered a genius—to dedicate himself to the ecological movement and the critique of science."

Shaken by this "defection," L.V. ceased to believe in his job. He quit to start on social research. His background gives him a tremendous ease with numbers, and he went through a ton of statistics (INSEE, the French National Institute, for example), double checking as he went, to dig out the needed numbers to come to his calculation of two hours a day as being sufficient to maintain current French lifestyles.

Where is Progress

"I looked at the French economy during two periods of 40 years each: 1896-1936, and 1936-1976. During the first period productivity (i.e. production per head per hour) increased by a factor of 3. During the same period, worktime was divided by a factor of 1.4. During the second period, productivity augmented even more than in the first: it was multiplied by 3 or 4, but the length of the workday did not significantly change." He provides this visual aid: .ls1

1896 1936 1976 Weekly Salaried hrs 56 40 42 Productivity (production 1 3 10 per person per hour) So what happens with all this production? A good example is given from a story out of "Le Monde" (P.M. Dontrelant, 11-41975): " The destruction of 100,000 tons (eur) of apples, straight from the tree to the waste dump." Farmers, paid to destroy their crops line up with truckloads, paid for wasting a billion apples by the E.E.C.'s FEOGA (Fond Europeen Agricole). Reminds one of the Grapes of Wrath and its gasolined oranges and starving Okies.

The issue is WASTE, one recognized in the states, not new yet more vital than ever. Time is wasted also. L.V. has a chapter on the subject ("A Time of Waste, a Waste of Time"), and guess what? Its primary concern is the waste occasioned by cars: "Time Lost to Speed:

When you look at the hours a car can save you and the hours you spend paying for it, you start yearning for the days of walking and bicycling. A worker owning a car spends for its purchase, upkeep, repairs and insurance, some 375 hours or about 2 months of work on the average."

But L.V. doesn't want to deprive you of your car. He proposes to cut down the number of hours needed to pay for it by building sensible cars—made to last, easy to fix by yourself, simple and environmentally-minded. He also promotes a decentralized organization: the return to living and working within a walkable or bussable distance.

The same argument is made about small appliances. Instead of units welded shut, which cannot be fixed, he imagines the possibility of neighborhood workshops where people share mechanical knowledge, spare parts are available for decades, instructions are clearly written and sketched, and people take pride in saving their cuisinart from certain death, and the ensuing pollution of the landscape and waste of natural resources, by changing its rotor belt and ensuring another 7 years of faultless operation. The same can be said of clothing, and the manufacture of more complex products such as electronic gizmos, motorcycles, etc. Standardization of tools and design, simplicity of design, involvement of the individual ("You want a TV? Build it! Help do the programming, too!"), and participation in neighborhood projects are all possible. He also suggests mechanization of the processes that make the individual parts, suggesting robotization of the most painful jobs: "Thus we would be able to eliminate the majority of assembly line work ... which constitutes one of the most alienating parts of the industrial system."

In the states the "Do-It-Yourself, Back-to-the-Land" movements are a faint echo of this very real possibility of social organization. Again, nothing new, just unexplored territory lost in the glitz of the amorphous spectacle we partake of each day.

There is no doubt that economics is a complex subject few of us are ready and able to tackle. Nor is economics the sole element: "After all, it is evident that the principal obstacle to reduced work hours is mostly political. To what end all the reasoning in the world if you lack the desire for a different life and the will to fight for it?"

Sadly, most people seem trapped in the belief that nothing can change because a) it has always been that way, and b) they are powerless individually, and c) they need their cars to go to work and their VCRs to unwind from a tough job. Yet rare are those individuals that do not despise and vilify their jobs. The workaholics of our society are mostly self-serving entrepreneurs who demand long hours from their employees and madmen with no real life outside of work. L.V. has a four pronged attack to achieve the reduction of work:

1) Reduce production

2) Augment productivity

3) Transform a part of `tied work' into `free work'

4) Augment the number of people engaged in `tied' work"

L.V. knows it is heresy to ask for a reduction of production. Most of us believe the wealth of our countries depends on it. Let's watch the switch of military production in the U.S. in the 1990's: there are great lessons to be drawn from it. It is a prime example of overproduction to no particular end but deemed essential to national security—read survival. Economic realities render the continuation of such production unworkable in the coming decade. Bush and Co. are busy dismantling this conspicuous consumption of unnecessary military "goods." Extrapolate this prime economic example to consumer goods: how many dead appliances do you own? Can you imagine using a sharp knife or two instead of a cuisinart? Think plastic, metal ore, labor, war in foreign countries rich in the resources we have already exhausted. Think of the missing spare parts.

For L.V. the reduction of production can be accomplished in three ways:

1 a) redistributing revenues b) diminishing waste c) increasing the lifespan of products

He makes a detailed economic study based on published documents used by the very economists employed by the French government to support their claim to political relevancy. His conclusion is that French production can be divided by a factor of 1.7 (a return to 1965 levels) without altering the standard of living.

He proposed in his second point to augment productivity by:

* Using automation to the max—what boosted productivity in the Industrial Age if not mechanization?

*Maximizing the time freed by the use of machines. He cites industrial productivity studies made in several countries to show that each hour of reduction in worktime boosts productivity by 5%.

* Everyone who wants to work will be able to. Everyone has something to share. With a "required" workday of 2 hours, handicapped people, students, mothers, older people and all the various groups that societies are made of would have no trouble contributing fully to both "tied" and free work. It also means a reassessment of the meanings of work and creativity, usefulness and ethics.

"When you look closely at all the numbers which I cited, you sometimes get the feeling that with a bit of good sense and good will, what appears insane today could be brought back to reason. But, to repaint our world in the colors of utopia, I had to eliminate profit, which is its engine, and centralist authoritarianism, which defends it. I was able, for this demonstration, to use the magic of thought to transport myself (prudently) to `another' world. One that the breath of thought isn't enough to create.

"Capitalism is truly here, ready to defend itself. The absurdities and injustices we recognize are not the result of mistakes or bungling: they are necessary to its survival."

PW readers will imagine the relevance of these topics to their own life. If the consumer is reluctant to buy in, the powers that be may be more responsive to suggestions: I hear the cash register ring louder than any other sound in the land. The impact of boycotts has been felt in recent decades, the latest being the tuna boycott, with sales of all tuna down by 20% and still dropping.

But how many are willing to consider public transportation as an alternative to cars? Imagine the resources wasted in individual cars applied to diversified "public" transportation modes (including free fleets of bikes in cities and "rental- private" vehicles to get to otherwise inaccessible places. We would need only a fraction of what the private auto industry consumes and people would not spend more than 2 months a year earning the choice to go places at their will. The time saved could be spent traveling.

"And Now? ... " closes the book, with a vision of a struggle for a 32 hour work week with a 30% hike in pay as a concrete demand for the present. Consumer boycotts work up to a certain extent: "Subjected to a strong enough pressure, the dominant class would give way on demands which eat up its profits but don't really threaten its survival in the short run. In themselves these demands are acceptable by the system and can be called reformist.

"What can be revolutionary, less easy to recuperate is the possible use of free time. ...

"More of us could take advantage of this time, not to feed the leisure industry but to take charge of ourselves outside the mercantile structure: exchange experience and know-how, put in place self-help networks, organize barter circuits between town and countryside, defend our own lifestyles, collectively boycott dangerous products, demand high quality, control our own work conditions ...

"This free time is also the time to simply take a breath, to live and dream, to find oneself, to return to the source of what makes us desire a different tomorrow. Technical argumentation is there to prove it: Hope isn't crazy; the dream is reasonable. Let loose the imagination, let's realize utopia!"