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Greece’s ‘troika’ of creditors – the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – has demanded that the Athens government introduce a six-day working week as part of the terms for the country’s second bailout. Those Greek workers who still have full time jobs already work the longest hours in the EU. Yet now the austerity technocrats are ordering them to work even longer and harder to pay off the bankers’ debts.
It is not just in Greece that longer hours are heralded as a solution to capitalism’s crisis. Britannia Unchained, the recent book by five Tory MPs from the 2010 intake, claimed that ‘the British are among the worst idlers in the world’. They bemoaned the country’s low work hours and early retirement age and ended by lamenting ‘the lost virtue of hard graft’. The authors render invisible the vast amount of labour that takes place outside official working hours.
On 20 October the TUC is holding a mass march for ‘a future that works’. There are many problems with work today: unemployment, low wages, precarious and temporary employment. Struggles for ‘more and better jobs’ are important. That is why we begin our ‘beyond work’ section by surveying current trends in industrial planning and look at the limits and omissions of these.
But even jobs with relatively ‘decent’ terms and conditions often monopolise too much of people’s lives. It isn’t just Britannia Unchained that valorises hard work and long hours – the work ethic pervades current thinking. Work, as defined by the labour market, is accepted as an obligation of citizenship – and the main way in which people are offered a role in society.
People’s desire to contribute to the common good, or their dreams of accomplishment, are only offered realisation through waged work – even though its prime purpose is not to produce social wealth but private surplus value: profit. Work has occupied the imaginations of both the political right and the left. When envisaging the future, social movements should not just consider how to make work better but also how to move beyond the wage contract.
The future cannot be postponed; it must be built today. If we want an alternative tomorrow we must find a way to reach it in our current struggles. To borrow Kathi Weeks’ phrase we must make ‘utopian demands’ – ones which offer concrete goals but can also act as a bridge towards transformation.
Such ideas are easy to describe and far harder to put into practice, but demands that point to a world beyond the wage already exist. Calling for shorter working hours without a reduction in wages is just such an idea. A 30-hour working week would help address some of the problems of underemployment and overwork. In addition it also challenges accepted ideas about the role of work in relation to other activities. While a shorter week may seem a moderate demand, it opens up new questions and critiques, and therefore offers a possible way towards more radical aspirations.
In our section looking beyond work Red Pepper also offers some moderate demands with potentially radical ends – demands like food sovereignty which aim to give people control over the material elements of their life and collectively reclaim food from the market. Or a citizen’s income which, like the women’s movement, recognises the labour involved in reproduction and also takes an imaginative step further, to think of a life outside of wage work.
We explore neighbourhood assemblies in Spain, which are beginning to root themselves in the day to day organising of local activities: spawning co-ops and action groups. Such creative new forms of co-operation outside of the workplace open up the possibility of a wider challenge to capital.
And in our essay, Hilary Wainwright highlights examples of trade union activity in the workplace that aren’t just organising for better terms and conditions but challenging the very purpose of work. She explores what it would mean for industrial policies to be devised with the purpose of releasing the social creativity of labour, whether in the workplace or not.
The disparate ideas we point to are connected by a creativity that is neither proprietary nor patented, by a labour that is neither individual nor alienated. The crisis of capital is not abating, and in this moment of post-Occupy strategising an imaginative leap beyond work can link current goals with future hopes.
Subcomandante Marcos said the society for which the Zapatistas struggle would be like a cinema programme in which they could choose to live a different film every day – and that the reason they have risen in revolt is that for the past 500 years they have been forced to live the same film over and over again. We must look beyond the screen of work to other possibilities and horizons. An alternative future is not based on working, but enabling creative and productive activity to occur beyond selling our creativity on the market.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi