April 30, 2023

Resisting Long Working Hours & Fighting Against Capitalism This May Day

Sudip Dutta

Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks. The time during which the labourer works, is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labour-power he has purchased of him”

IN 2019, the National Statistical Office of the Government of India published a report titled "Time Use in India - 2019" which ran to 2140 pages. However, it is unfortunate to note that the report was suppressed by the ruling class before becoming a topic of discussion, debate, or agitation among the Indian working class and its political organisations.


The report revealed a startling reality - male urban workers aged 15-59 years spend an average of 521 minutes a day, or 60 hours and 47 minutes a week, on direct employment and related activities. This demolishes the myth of the legally stipulated 48-hour workweek. Similarly, rural women of the same age group spend an average of 13 hours a day on paid and unpaid work, indicating the stark reality of their daily lives.

What is even more shocking is the fact that Indians, especially women, spend less than one-tenth of their day on leisure. In comparison to global standards, workers in China work an average of 46 hours a week, while those in the United Kingdom, the USA, and Germany work 36, 37, and 37 hours respectively. A report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) revealed that India ranks fifth among the worst-rated countries in the world for long working hours, with only Gambia, Mongolia, Maldives, and Qatar - where the majority of workers are Indian migrants - having longer average working hours than India.

The terrible extension of working hours has disastrous consequences with multiple grievances, reminiscent of the historic struggle and sacrifices made by workers in America 137 years ago in 1886. They stormed the streets for the right to 8 hours of work, 8 hours of leisure, and 8 hours of rest - a fight that earned the right for the entire working class of the world.

The Global Wage Report 2020-21 has brought to light the alarming reality that Indians receive the lowest minimum statutory wage in the Asia-Pacific region, with the exception of Bangladesh. Furthermore, the share of wages in Gross Value Added (GVA) in the Indian manufacturing sector has drastically declined from 28.5 per cent in 1980-81 to a mere 11 per cent in 2012-13 (ILO 2017). In contrast, the share of profits has increased from 15.7 per cent to 44.1 per cent, peaking at 53.8 per cent in 2007-08 - the year of the disastrous global recession.

The largest decline in wage shares, from 51.5 per cent to 14.8 per cent, was observed in firms with over 5,000 employees, primarily due to rampant casualisation, contractualisation, and apprenticeship programmes in large, capital-intensive manufacturing industries. During the observed period, the rate of growth of labor productivity was 6.1 per cent, but annual earnings per employee only increased at a rate of 2.3 per cent. Despite the substantial growth in employee contribution to GVA, the returns for employees remained much lower.

This incessant fall in wage share and unbridled growth in productivity has disastrous consequences for workers in India, as it perpetuates income inequality and exacerbates the already dire socioeconomic situation. 


In a nutshell, Indian workers are often compelled to work long hours for very low wages, all while contributing to ever-increasing productivity. The years of the pandemic were particularly frightening for workers; those who managed to retain their jobs often had to work inhumanely long shifts, while the rate of profit and accumulation for the largest companies soared to unprecedented levels. Unfortunately, the result of this situation has been the institutional killing of India's working people, as evidenced by their deteriorating living standards and the prevalence of occupational diseases.

The Factories Act lists 29 notifiable diseases, including lung diseases, poisonings, contact dermatitis, cancers, and noise-induced hearing loss. The prevalence of silicosis in slate pencil and stone manufacturing is as high as 38-54.5 per cent, byssinosis is between 30-48.8 per cent in textile and jute manufacturing, and asbestosis affects 3-9 per cent of manufacturing workers. Shockingly, the poorest 20 per cent of Indian households have a life expectancy of only 65.1 years compared to the richest 20 per cent who live to 72.7 years, an absolute gap of 7.6 years. Women and children in the manufacturing sector are particularly vulnerable. A study has reported that children working in the manufacturing sector are engaged in work for six or more hours per day. Additionally, the work environment is poorly ventilated and illuminated, unhygienic, and often contains respirable dust, which makes it unsafe.

The working conditions of several industries in India are perilous, with workers being subjected to hazardous environments while working for an illegally extended period for a meager wage. Moreover, these workers often reside in unhygienic slums without access to proper ventilation, sanitation, or living space, which ultimately leads to premature death due to a lack of adequate treatment, food, or care. The plight of migrant workers is particularly unimaginable, as they are forced to lead an extremely precarious existence with an ever-increasingly lengthy working day.

Shockingly, none of the four Labour Code bills initially stipulated the basic eight hours of work a day, which was mandated by the very first ILO Convention. After consistent interventions and agitations by trade unions, the government reluctantly inserted some definitive clauses, but with provisions to extend and exempt all stipulations, with the ulterior motive of demolishing all workers' rights. The spread-over time was blatantly increased from 10.30 hours to 12 hours, and the fixed weekly holiday in Sunday was eliminated. The government kept provisions to exempt establishments by their own choices, enabling them to extend working hours to any length.

Just after the code was passed, many state governments rushed to extend daily work time to 12 hours, especially during the deadly pandemic. Workers revolted and compelled the governments to step back. However, recently the government of Karnataka passed a Bill to extend working hours to 12 hours a day to appease their masters just before the assembly election. In addition, the Tamil Nadu government passed a Bill to exempt a mass scale of factories, groups, or classes from the binding stipulation of 8 hours of work and related matters. The central and state governments are ruthlessly seeking to empower their masters to exploit workers without any hindrance, like hounds chasing prey.

With an animal spirit for endless surplus capital try to extract more and more labor from a worker within the natural limits of a day – 24 hours. It attempts to lengthen the working day and intensify the work schedule, connecting every single second with productivity in its unrelenting pursuit of profit.

Traditionally, employers paid only the bare minimum wage to maintain, recover, and reproduce labor power through the process of nourishment, rest, and leisure. These requirements were guided by the general stage of social advancement of the workers' society, the socially necessary labor needed to produce the commodities of minimum subsistence, and the unpaid family labour of the worker to guarantee reproduction.

Suppose a worker has an average lifespan of 70 years and can work for 40 years. During these 40 years, the worker's total income should be sufficient for her to survive her entire lifetime. Her lifelong maintenance, including her body, mind, social life, and family, depends on the wage earned during these 40 years, which includes an average of 8 hours of work per day and the corresponding loss of working capacity. However, if the working day is stretched to 12 hours, the worker will be unable to recover from the loss and depletion of her physical and mental strength with the 8-hour work wage. In most cases, long hours of work in a hostile environment cause irreversible damage and permanently diminish the capacity to reproduce labour power.

If a capitalist can extract the vital 40 years of the working capacity of the worker within 20 years by employing long hours, they only need to pay a fraction of the total payable wage of 40 years, i.e., 20/40. This is the origin of the criminal extension of working hours. At the same time, the capitalist exploits every ounce of sweat and blood from the worker in the pursuit of productivity. The latest advancements in man-machine interface, including robotics and artificial intelligence, have taken the intensity of work to an unparalleled level. Machines never tire, and a worker caught between two machines cannot even pause to catch their breath. Skilled workers operating advanced machines can produce more value in less time than the socially necessary average, thereby increasing the relative quantity of surplus value for the capitalist. This intensification of work means that the capitalist is squeezing the labor power of workers to an inhumane degree.


Capitalism disregards the well-being of the labor force. It maintains a vast pool of unemployed workers to replace those who have been mercilessly exploited. With the continued increase in automation, it seeks to decrease its reliance on living labor. It brazenly employs state power to rob workers of their labor with impunity. Under capitalism, freedom translates to the freedom of capital, while liberty means the freedom to exploit workers. The proposed 12-hour, 4-day work scheme is a nefarious ploy that would legitimize 12-hour workdays without overtime pay or other benefits. Factories will operate 24/7, seven days a week, with daily-wage laborers receiving wages for only 48 hours of work, or four days. The most insidious aspect is the implementation of work-from-home arrangements in the IT and related sectors, which has extended the workday to almost 24 hours! One can only imagine the brutality faced by informal or platform workers when the working hours in formal manufacturing sectors are extended in this egregious manner. The never-accounted-for unpaid home-work continually serves the capitalist outside of formal capitalist production to reproduce the labor force. Notably, research by the US Department of Labour on long working hours revealed that the rates of accidents and injuries increase by 18 per cent during evening shifts and 30 per cent during night shifts. Working 12 hours per day is linked to a 37 per cent greater risk of injury. However, the lengthening of working hours is advocated by imperialist agencies such as the IMF and the World Bank under the direction of international finance capital and their compliant Modi government. The reduction of working hours in developed countries with massive wealth accumulation, even during times of pandemic and crisis, is a direct result of the ever-increasing burden of working hours in developing countries.

Capitalism, in its most critical recent period, has fragmented the entire production process into numerous segments and enterprises, resembling the intricate webs of a spider. The end product is in the grasp of monopolies, while whole intermediaries are produced under the command of smaller capital. The squeezing of smaller capital by monopolies degenerates the lives of workers in those industries to a perilous state, akin to the struggles of prey trying to escape the clutches of a predator. This barbarous mechanism, with its relentless commodification of every aspect of social life, has not only snatched away the labor power of workers but also their entire existence, including the soul and mind. Neoliberalism, in its current stage of restructuring the economy and employment relations, is in desperation to abolish the entire concept of regular work hours, stipulated minimum wages, and defined social security. In its most reactionary stage, it is trying to turn back the clock of history and do away with the sacrosanct right of eight-hour workdays, which was earned through the valorous struggle of May Day.

The working class of the world can resist the unbridled extraction of surplus labor, struggle to enhance their share of wages, demand minimum decent living and working conditions, and stand firm in challenging all imperialist-monopoly-finance capital-led onslaughts. They can finally deny the dictum of capital to run the production process for more and more profit and accumulation. The struggle to reduce the working hours is a training ground to launch the greatest struggle against wage slavery and march towards a society free from the exploitation of men by men. The working class is destined to lead that struggle and this May Day must emerge as a milestone towards this destination. By working together the working class can paralyse the capitalist system from its core and usher in a new era of fairness, justice, and equality.