Every year the rich get richer and the people who do the work stagnate, or get paid less. The wealth of the richest 1 percent of Americans has increased almost 50 percent since 1989, while the median family wealth has remained unchanged for the last 15 years. The stock market has doubled over the last 30 months and corporate profits are exploding. Meanwhile, wage levels are declining, benefits are being cut, working conditions are deteriorating and good jobs are moving to low wage countries. Even when wages aren’t cut, but just stay the same, workers lose the amount of inflation every year. These invisible losses have been going on for 20 years.
The Committee for a Shorter Work Week in Berkeley is hoping to do something about this attack on the working class. Building on the immensely successful state initiative petition drive to increase the minimum wage which was passed in the last California election, they hope to pass an initiative in Berkeley to cut the work week to 35 hours a week with no decrease in pay. The Berkeley initiative would be a demonstration project for an idea that, if it was implemented nationally, would materially improve the lives of workers.
A shorter work week not only gives workers extra personal time in these hectic times, but it creates a labor shortage which increases the negotiating power of workers. With technological improvements constantly reducing the amount of labor needed to create social wealth, it is only natural that the average work week should be reduced to keep pace. Throughout the industrial revolution, the labor movement struggled to reduce the length of the work week. By the 1930s, the 40 hour week had become the standard. Workers have been stuck at the 40 hour week since then.
It takes a minimum of 4,363 valid Berkeley signatures, out of about 100,000 registered Berkeley voters, to get an initiative on the ballot. The committee has come up with draft language for the initiative, which they are hoping to revise, improve and then submit to the city. After the initiative is published by the city, there are 180 days to circulate the petition. The Committee is aiming to have the initiative on either the June or November, 1998 election ballot. They hope to use innovative, community based tactics, and avoid paid signature gatherers, in getting the initiative on the ballot.
If you want to get involved, contact the Committee at PO Box 451, Oakland, CA 94604. Or call (510)595-3229 for more information. Meetings are going to be every other Saturday starting October 11 at 10a.m. at the Berkeley Public Library Claremont Brach at Ashby and Benvenue in Berkeley.