“If work has been able to take on a meaning and a value other than the simple fact of earning a living, it is also because there is an after”

En 1910, one of the first laws aimed at introducing pensions was described by the CGT as “measure for the dead” : at that time, 94% of workers did not reach 65 years of age. It is therefore better to claim the eight-hour day… This is why, rather than talking about retirement, Paul Lafargue, as early as 1880, claims The Right to Lazinesssuperb joke to better promote a drastic reduction in the daily duration of work.

If one often ociates length of the days, arduousness and continuity of work until death with the industrialization of the XIXe century, the working days have been very long for much longer, in the city as well as in the countryside. The great textile factories of the 17th centurye century flowed into schedules already tested two to three centuries earlier: from thirteen to fourteen hours of work per working day, with demanding productivity standards. When the workers can no longer satisfy them, they are downgraded to less hard but less remunerated tasks. Family and charitable institutions are the only recourse when their strength fails them. No retirement, except for old soldiers or certain aged servants of the State.

Industrialization only swells the numbers of workers subjected to such rhythms. It is at 40 years for men and 35 years for women that one earns the best living in the cotton mills around 1890. Then, the older one gets, the less one is remunerated. The daily duration of work remains twelve effective hours in industries since the decree of September 9, 1848, and that approximately two hundred and eighty to two hundred and ninety days per year. This decree is one of the first signs, timid, of state intervention in social issues.

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But between fraud, legal exceptions and sectors ignored by the law, we still find around 1880 workers who reached maximums similar to those at the beginning of the century or in pre-industrial Europe, i.e. 3,400 to 3,700 hours per year – compared to 1,500 Today ! Of course, many only work intermittently. But when the job is pressing, they no longer count their hours. Reasoning by means finds its limits here.

Tripartite vision of life

Especially since the definition of schedules is nothing without analyzing the content of the work. The intensification of gestures did not wait for industrialization: the machine dictates its rhythm, the rates increase with technical progress and require increased efforts. A laboratory of modernity, spinning, for example, requires a more intense mobilization of bodies and attention. The intensification also concerns sectors little affected by the mechanical revolution. At the mine, in the building industry, in the fire industries, the modes of remuneration (tasting and haggling) were made to put the workers in competition, while the diffusion, from the years 1870-1880, of small equipment (the sewing machines, for example) makes domestic piecework the exhausting counterpart of the factory. The difficulty of working is thus sometimes much greater at the end of the 19th century.e century than at its beginning.

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