January, 2001, Vol. 124, No. 1
Book reviews from past issues
Sharing the Work, Sparing the Planet. By Anders Hayden. New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2000, 234 pp. $65, cloth; $22.50, paper.
Canadian author Anders Hayden adds a powerful new dimension to the array of arguments for reducing hours of work. Sharing the Work, Sparing the Planet stands out for that reason from the recent stream of books advocating cutting the hours of work. Hayden shares the concerns of many writers—job creation, improved quality of life for the employed, balancing work and family, and equity between North and South—but adds a compelling environmental basis for cutting working time. It is among the very best books on the subject of working time.
Many recent books have offered work-time reduction as a single solution for multiple problems. Unemployment, declining quality of life, and stress on the family and individuals have each been the focus of books advocating cutting hours of work. Hayden’s is a more encompassing vision, taking in all these issues and more, and his voice adds a rich new dimension to the symphony.
The book focuses on the role of reducing time in achieving ecologically sustainable development, addressing at the same time equity between the North and the South. Hayden demonstrates a wide-ranging command of the multiple issues that reduction of working time can address, and adds a mastery of the literature.
Hayden begins by recalling that since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, people have had two motives for a reduction in working time, getting more hours away from work, and creating more jobs through a better distribution of the available work. These remain every bit as pertinent, he says, but this focus is on the ecological gains to be achieved by work-time reduction.
The stress that consumption in the North puts on the earth’s ecology is the main concern of the book, and Hayden develops a powerful thesis to address it. Acknowledging a rift in the environmental community about how to deal with ecological problems, Hayden draws a distinction between two camps—"sufficiency" and "efficiency." The latter group, he argues, believes that environmental impacts can be reduced by better use of inputs, so that material sacrifice is unnecessary, and unlimited economic growth is possible. In contrast, the "sufficiency" camp of the green movement, to which Hayden clearly belongs, believes that reducing inputs per unit of goods and services, while good in itself, must ultimately fail to save the earth. He asserts that "although the ecological crisis does clearly call for a more efficient use of non-human nature, this response has serious limitations. Growth in GNP without input growth is little more than a theoretical possibility at present, and in any case zero input growth is not enough. Significant reductions in input in the North are necessary." The author argues that achieving that end can come through reductions in working time.
Make no mistake, this book is about work-time reduction, though sparing the earth is a main goal. The headings of the remaining chapters make the book’s scope clear: "Working Less, Consuming Less, and Living More"; "Work-time Reduction and an Expansionary Vision"; "Why It’s So Hard to Work Less"; "Work-time Policy and Practice, North and South"; "Europe’s New Movement for Work-time Reduction"; and "With or without Loss of Pay? With or without Revolution?"
It is outside the scope of the book to provide a history of the struggle for the shorter work day—for that, in the United States, see Roediger and Foner’s Our Own Time: A History of American Labor and the Working Day (pp. 44–49.) But Hayden does trace some important voices who have spoken out for work-time reduction over the past two centuries. This enriches his argument and provides a brief background for the reader new to the issue of work-time reduction.
For readers more conversant with the issue, the long chapter on steps taken by European countries for reducing hours of work will be very useful, as it goes into great detail on what is happening now outside the United States. France, where a series of laws over the past 10 years have made real changes in work time, gets 11 pages of reporting. Germany, where changes have come more through collective bargaining, also gets full coverage, as do the Netherlands, Denmark, and other European countries.
In short, Sharing the Work is engaging reading for both specialists and neophytes. And as concern with global warming takes its place on the international agenda, Hayden’s book provides an input to the discussion from a different perspective than the usual tax and carbon-trading schemes being put forward. Not that Hayden ignores environmental taxes as an alternative to his preferred solution, for he covers those as well. The final chapter, "With or without Loss of Pay? With or without the Revolution" is a very thoughtful analysis of the conflicts between labor and capital, and offers ways to reduce those conflicts while still achieving the reduction in working hours that Hayden advocates.
This is a very rich book, the product of a writer steeped in the literature and the political debates about work-time reduction, a writer who treats generously those with whom he disagrees by carefully and fairly making their arguments before offering his own. The book has extensive notes and a useful, though not exhaustive, bibliography.
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