Work time reduction and economic democracy as climate change mitigation strategies: or why the climate needs a renewed labor movement

Abstract

Work time reduction (WTR), or reductions in the total amount of time spent in paid work, and economic democracy, or shifting the control of firms from capitalists to workers, are discussed as strategies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and increase well-being. Along with numerous social benefits, reduced working hours are associated with reductions in GHG emissions, energy use, and ecological footprints. Economic democracy not only increases individual and group autonomy, but also creates conditions conducive to lower energy and material throughput. A successful implementation of WTR and/or economic democracy presupposes a renewed labor movement. One tactic to help revive the labor movement is highlighting its capacity to help fight climate change. Pairing WTR and economic democracy may help overcome the false antithesis between the interests of workers and the environment. There is a genuine “win-win” scenario for people and the climate via shorter working hours in democratically controlled workplaces.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    I am not opposed to UBI as I think it may have a potential place in transitioning to an ecological society. However, UBI faces numerous challenges, including the fact that it would do little to reduce work time polarization between unemployed and labor market insiders (LaJeunesse 2009, p. 152). There is also the potential problem of free-loading (for reply, see Gorz 1999, pp. 98ff). The most pernicious dimensions of UBI relate right-wing support for low UBI. The conservative approach to UBI entails a replacement of other social welfare systems with a low UBI, thereby forcing the unemployed to take low-paying jobs (see Gorz 1999, pp. 81f; Ikebe 2016; Zamora 2017). Zamora (2017) summarizes the left’s concern with UBI well: “it [UBI] risks amplifying employers’ current race to the bottom” by heightening a willingness to reduce demands for a “fair wage.” For thoughtful socialist cases for UBI, see Gorz (1999) and Calnitsky (2017).

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Gunderson, R. Work time reduction and economic democracy as climate change mitigation strategies: or why the climate needs a renewed labor movement. J Environ Stud Sci 9, 35–44 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-018-0507-4

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Keywords

  • Working time regulation
  • Work sharing
  • Degrowth
  • Gorz
  • Worker cooperatives
  • Union renewal