The American people work longer and harder than any other industrialized nation, with much less to show for it. The indomitable monolith of corporate profit has infested our economy, teaching people that they are only as valuable as to what they can produce, by how many hours they put in, by how willing they are to sacrifice their family and personal life for their career — only to be cruelly tossed aside when one’s usefulness has been expended. It’s the capitalist way.
For far too long, we’ve been brainwashed with the corporate ideology of efficiency. Told constantly that we are lazy in comparison to the labor forces of our competitors like Mexico and China, forcing us to work harder, terrorized by the constant threats of their supernatural efficiency stealing our jobs — while the corporations outsource to those nations anyway, taking advantage of their lax labor laws.
The truth is something far different. The International Labor Organization reports that “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.” The United States is the only industrialized nation in the world with no mandated leave or paid parental leave. And yet somehow we still have people like Jeb Bush telling Americans they need to work harder, even though according to a 2014 Gallup poll, Americans employed full-time worked an average of 47 hours a week. Almost half worked over 50 hours a week.”
This state of affairs greatly contributes to American frustration levels, and it really doesn’t need to be this way. The democratic socialist nation of Sweden has recently announced their move to a six-hour workday after early experiments reported higher employee happiness, lower turnover rates, and higher profits. Linus Felt, CEO of app developer Filimundus, remarked that “the eight-hour work day is not as effective as one would think. To stay focused on a specific work task for eight hours is a huge challenge. In order to cope, we mix in things and pauses to make the work day more endurable. At the same time, we are having it hard to manage our private life outside of work.”
It’s a humanist approach that seems entirely alien to modern American labor — and one that creates more economic benefits than you would think. The Independent reports that “Toyota centres in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city, made the switch 13 years ago, with the company reporting happier staff, a lower turnover rate, and an increase in profits in that time.” Americans are expected to accept whatever scraps and bones our corporate overlords deign to throw us, and told to be grateful for it. It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a way for the American worker to increase productivity without having to sacrifice their personal happiness and the well-being of their families.
Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has already made the democratic socialist ideals of the Nordic nations part of his campaign platform, bringing these ideals into the center of American political discourse. In an economy transitioning away from the manufacturing jobs that fueled the post-WWII boom, it’s time we started to put our workers first. America’s middle class led us to greatness; gelding the power of the corporate oligarchs and restoring our middle class to its former glory is the only way we can start to heal our nation of its festering economic inequality.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.