In the soul, in the body and in the pocket

Shikanosuke Yagaki, Untitled (watch), 1930–9


The struggle for working time between workers and capitalists

In the history of capitalism, the fight for working time has provoked a fierce dispute between bosses and workers. In this regard, in a free course given at PUC-SP in 1997, the Portuguese historian João Bernardo explained the issue very clearly: on the one hand, the capitalists are imposing on workers to work more, earning less; on the other, workers wanting to earn more by working less.

Continuing with the perspective then adopted by this thinker, the exploiters have been the winners of this conflict so far, either because the capitalists continue to control the workers' working time, dictating to them rhythms, gestures, working conditions, that is, subjecting them to those to the discipline of capital, because without it the labor market does not work; and either because the workers' struggle has not yet surpassed capitalism.

By the way, when the National Confederation of Industry (CNI) argues that it is necessary to change the labor legislation to increase the working day to 80 hours a week – an average of 12 hours a day – and also suggests changes in Social Security,[I] both measures, according to the entity, necessary to increase the competitiveness of the economy, it is indicating the possibility of imposing one more defeat to the workers.

Although this employer body has backed off after what it said in relation to the daily extension of work, as reported by the Portal da Indústria [ii], the thrown words wanted to say something. And with an aggravating factor: such changes in labor legislation and social rights propose to deepen, in Marxist terms, the absolute added value, that is, a context that combines expropriation of value produced by work performed in a productive structure that lacks sophistication, with infrastructure of exploitation based on “punishments and threats”, and long working hours, in addition to lowering the price of the workforce.

Brazil is among the most working economies in the world. The comparison parameter here are the member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development – ​​OECD, although the country is not part of the organization. According to estimates by Our World in Data, a global data platform, in 2014, Brazilians worked, on average, 1.739 hours a year. That's 380 hours more than a German worker (1.359 hours/year), whose country is a member of the OECD.

In this context, according to PNAD/IBGE 2014[iii], the working day in Brazil, one of the components to measure exploitation, is up to 44 hours per week for 76% (73,0 million people) of the economically active employed population – PEA. The percentage of workers working more than 45 hours corresponds to 24% (26,0 million people in the employed EAP). At the same time, as the Brazilian economy predominantly operates within the framework of absolute added value, producing with low or low technological intensity, which tends to reflect on the worker's salary, 59% of this workforce as a whole receives, on average, up to two minimum wages, according to PNAD/IBGE, 2014.

In the dynamics of capitalism, as shown by João Bernardo in Economics of social conflicts (Cortez), absolute surplus value tends to “aggravate exploitation without increasing productivity”, in addition to being configured as a potential “ground for the outbreak of conflicts”; while in the field of relative surplus value, also in the Marxist conception, the “worsening exploitation” will be reflected in productivity gains. Because the mechanisms of relative surplus value are strategic both in “containment” and in the “anticipation of conflicts”, so that the effects of this type of exploitation result in productive environments, where high technological intensity, sophisticated and subtle instruments of social control, where the exploitation of intelligence is resorted to, as workers are more educated, and where capitalists tend to give in in terms of participation, better working conditions and remuneration. This is, therefore, a typical environment for transnational companies, most of whose head offices are located in countries that are central to relative surplus value, such as the USA, Canada, Germany and Japan, to name the main ones.

Now, still according to the framework of analysis provided by the author of Economics of social conflicts, these two exploitation mechanisms never operate in isolation, but “articulated and combined in the same production process”. In this way, it happens, then, that there are sectors of the economy in which the productive structure is more complex and, therefore, demands a greater number of workers working in the field of relative surplus value without ceasing to coexist with those who work in the context of surplus value. absolute in the same productive unit.

Indeed, this is a conflict that will never be overcome by capitalism — that of “uniformizing the models of exploitation” —, as it uses them mainly to divide workers, playing above all with the inequality factor in both wages and productivity. In this plan, workers who work in cycles of relative surplus value only confirm the terrible conditions of the working class as a whole. In the end, she is doubly defeated.

The argument of prolonging the weekly working hours implies not only a daily increase in work, but also a “decrease in rest days”, and can directly compromise the “reproduction of the workforce”. This pressure has been imposed on workers as a whole, as the example of Finland shows. In Finland something very enlightening happened about the offensive of capital, as reported by the newspaper Valor Econômico, where, once again, the workers were doubly defeated, when they accepted an increase in the working day without a wage increase.

In short, the length of working hours and the intensification of work directly affects the living conditions of workers, taking into account the fact that this type of overexploitation can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion, whose wear and tear may not be compensated. In addition, it tends to expose workers to various occupational hazards, making them more susceptible to occupational diseases and accidents. This without disregarding aspects inherent to the social and economic costs caused by the undesirable results on workers' health, emphasizing that currently Brazil ranks fourth in the world in accidents at work, "behind China, India and Indonesia", as reported by the Company Brasileira de Comunicação – EBC, based on data from the International Labor Organization – ILO.[iv] And according to the same report, in 2014 the Brazilian economy accounted for more than 700 accidents at work. It is not by chance that among the countries with the highest number of cases are those where absolute surplus value predominates.

Following the lead of researcher Sadi Dal Rosso, in “Intensity and Immateriality of Work and Health" (Trab. educ. Saúde [online], 2006, vol.4, n.1), depending on the economic insertion of the worker, in this case, if he works in a branch of “more traditional capitalist activity”, which operates with low levels of of capital and technology and little innovation, in whose environment there is a significant risk to their life and health, the workplace can become a source of “accidents with physical injuries”; if in a branch of “modern capitalist activity”, composed of companies whose productive dynamic combines high technological intensity, innovation, qualified labor and large concentration of capital, it can increase the specific incidence of diseases related to this area, causing illness due to “RSI and MSDs, stress, depression, hypertension and gastritis”, typical cases of hidden occupational accidents/illnesses.

So, why does the CNI propose to resort to this strategy if it is absolutely ineffective? Is it assuming its obsolescence, stagnation, especially technological, as well as its inability to expand and modernize capitalism in Brazil? Or is it testing workers' responsiveness by pressuring them to increase productivity by extending the working week, precisely at a time of economic hardship and in the wake of a parliamentary coup? Or still, are you considering that workers only tolerate exploitation, without considering that they can fight it?

*Marcelo Phintener, sociologist, is a doctoral candidate in philosophy at PUC-SP.



[I] About, see cita-jornada-de-80h-por-semana.htm

[ii] About, see,91848/presidente-da-cni-robson-braga- de-andrade-never-defended-increased-work-days.html

[iii] Data refer to 2014, as they were available and consolidated at the time the article was written.

[iv] About, see work-alert-judges

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