May Day

by John Q on May 1, 2023

Yesterday was May Day, celebrated as the Labour Day public holiday here in Queensland. And this week, appropriately enough I’m giving two presentations on the case for a four-day working week, one to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, a business-oriented thinktank, and one to a parliamentary inquiry.

I started writing a post about the prospect of a radical change in the relationship between workers and managers in the information economy, arising from the combination of near full-employment and the shift to remote work for large groups of workers. But I ran out of time, so for now, I will just toss up some points I want to discuss

  • Will full employment be sustained, or will central banks succeed in recreating the reserve army of labor ?
  • How real is the threat of employer spyware extending surveillance into home workplaces ?
  • How should we conceptualise the relationship between workers, managers and owners of capital ?
  • What are the implications for unions?

I’ll throw it open for comments, and think some more about all this.



bruceJ 05.01.23 at 10:51 pm

For the points for which I have actual knowledge:

Will full employment be sustained, or will central banks succeed in recreating the reserve army of labor ?

Since punitive recessions are the only tool they seem to possess in supressing workers demands for equitable wages fighting inflation; I’d say pretty good.

How real is the threat of employer spyware extending surveillance into home workplaces ?

very real; they do it already. A co-workers daughter got a job working from home. The required software from the employer to do the job includes keystroke monitoring and requires her camera be on all the time for monitoring purposes.

Anecdotally this isn’t at all uncommon. My own employer simply decreed that everyone had to return to the office because he’s sure that if we’re not here we’re goofing off. (and he’s a College Dean at a university where entire swathes of workers (like the bulk of the University’s IT staff) are still probably 80-90% remote. I know this because one of my own projects is a room and resource reservation system and was asked to accommodate a bunch of office and cubicles for a major administrative department for the purpose of occasional on–premises work.


Sashas 05.01.23 at 11:07 pm

How real is the threat of employer spyware extending surveillance into home workplaces ?

I’ll just start with this one: VERY. I work in academia, and we got a head start on the rest of you, as many of us have been offering online homework, even online exams, for long before the COVID19 pandemic. There is a wide array of software competing for the coveted title of Most Intrusive “Anti-Cheat” Software. It’s all malware trash. It’s all racist. It all still sees wide use.

Expect to have to jump through a variety of needless and painful hoops in order to convince your boss’s boss that you are constantly working. Hoops, might I add, that will often be directly counterproductive for you actually getting your work done.

That said, adults tend to have rather more leverage than college students do, so please use yours to refuse all the spyware. And work with your coworkers to present a united front. Together we are stronger.


Tim Dymond 05.02.23 at 12:53 am

Full employment might be sustained on paper, but the ‘reserve army’ of labour might be the underemployed rather than the unemployed? Also – for all the reviewing of Central Banks, no-one seems to have an alternative to the technocratic (undemocratic) approach to Central Banking itself. So the bankers can feel relaxed about policies that create unemployment.
Spyware is a very real issue, particularly if it is sold to us as ‘productivity enhancing’.
‘Without our brain and muscle/not a single wheel would turn’.
Unions need to make the case for workers getting more from the labour market, not just ‘keeping up’ with living costs (even though that’s the easier case to make).


Matt 05.02.23 at 1:01 am

The spyware issue is an interesting one (perhaps especially for people “working from home” and using work-provided computers, but not only them.) Employer attempts to control employees’ outside of working hours behavior isn’t new, of course, but has increased a fair amount in recent years. Elizabeth Anderson talks about this some in her Private Government book, mentioned in her “welcome” thread, and I discuss some of the issues in this recent paper . (I discuss employers demanding social media passwords, but not spywear specifically. There are some interesting related cases, such as a school district in Pennsylvania using the web cam of school-provided lap tops to spy on kids.)


AnthonyB 05.04.23 at 2:59 am

I work at a firm where 4-day week is simply impossible. We work every day when markets are open anywhere. The last couple of years we didn’t even get New Years’ Day off, because when the holiday fell on a weekend, the U.S. was open on one side of the weekend and Europe was open on the other side. (No rest for those of us in the capital-management business; then again they pay us for our troubles.) The world has moved on t0 24/7 work, with venue-shopping when part of the world is closed.


engels 05.04.23 at 11:24 am

No rest for those of us in the capital-management business

Anyone who has ever walked through the City of London out of hours can testify that this is bullshit.


Ebenezer Scrooge 05.04.23 at 5:07 pm

“Full employment” is a dynamic concept. Like Tim@3 said, the equilibrium issue is malemployment. I can easily see a new and awful equilibrium of labor: a bigger and better domestic servant class for our new overlords. (How many battalions of forelock-tuggers will Peter Thiel demand?) It happened before, and it may happen again.


John Q 05.04.23 at 10:51 pm

Anthony @4 I’m always puzzled by this kind of objection. We have a 5-day standard working week now, and still manage to operate essential services 24-7. Why should a shift to 4-3 change this?

And the fact that trading venues still operate on limited hours suggests you may be protesting too much wrt finance, as Engels says.


Trader Joe 05.05.23 at 11:46 am

@8 JQ and @5 Anthony

I think what Anthony is getting at is another of your favorite labor/management problems which is boundaries between work and non-work hour engagement.

I can say my work schedule is 4 days a week, but if I’m still receiving emails and phone calls from people on the so called “off” days I’ll need to 1) choose between customer service and work/life balance and 2) need to have my managers back me up on that decision.

I can agree on the value of 1, but can attest for the financial industry in the US anyway the possibility of 2 is pretty dubious (though not doubt mileage varies).

Most large Wall Street banks have mandated 4 days in the office, but the reality is closer to 5 because once people get back together there is an actual synergy to being seen and being involved and as competitive as the environment is if some are there 5, you need to be too. As is daily noted – this is the way its been for 100 years, its the last 2 that are the anomaly.


AnthonyB 05.08.23 at 12:16 am

Engels @ 6 There is no such thing as out-of-hours. At my workplace we have the day (U.S) shift, Pacific, and European shifts. We trade 23 hours a day (after 1600 we don’t re-open until 1700, common practice in the industry).


Krishnamurthy Prabhakar 05.09.23 at 1:31 pm

I think in India the reserve army of workers will be sustained by the policies which started from 1947 till date. There is no effective mechanism to create full employment in India.

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