For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Employment struggles and the commodification of time: Marx and the analysis of working time flexibility"

by Tuckman, Alan (2005)


This paper explores new working time arrangements around a critique of the ‘commodification of time’ to illuminate the contradictions of such new flexibilities. Two features of these new arrangements are seen as relevant for evaluating the Marx/Engels analysis. Firstly, it roots the examination of time in commodification, although, as criticised in this paper, some authors have seen this as the generality of time rather than that within the exchange of labour power. Significantly — and central in all working time arrangements — it is labour power that is sold, be it for a particular period of time, rather than the time itself. Hence, working time arrangements set boundaries against ‘free’ time or time in which labour power is not sold as a commodity, that ‘free’ time which was recognised in the traditional arrangements — fought over in early industrialism — which set premium payments against anti-social hours within ‘overtime’. New working time arrangements tend to blur the boundaries between ‘free’ and ‘working’ time, assuming an availability of labour power to capital. While much of the promotion of flexibility stresses the possibility of making adjustment to suit social and domestic requirements it is more usually the means for altering working time to meet the demands of capital. The much-vaunted case of Volkswagen has led to ‘working time accounts’ becoming the established temporal arrangement within the German car industry and increasingly becoming the norm for other European auto producers. The name given to these new working arrangements within the motor industry suggests that time has indeed become further commodified. For workers within these new time regimes, the hours owed to their employer is displayed along with their earnings — and deductions — on their wage slip.

Key Passage

The analysis of labour time as a commodity opens areas of understanding ofconflicts and tensions made transparent through the idea of partial commodification with adifferent articulation of the subordination of labour to capital taking shape in the encroachment ofthe demands of commodified time into free time. In beginning to address this contradiction, wemust note that a feature of the emergence of industrial capitalism – in the commodification oflabour - took labour outside the domestic setting placing it spatially within the factory and in theoffice. It also located that labour temporally in the construction of a distinction between ‘workingtime’ and ‘free time’. This is not a contrast between work and leisure but between that time inwhich human labour is productive of exchange value and that time when it is not, between labourtime as a commodity and free time when labour power is not in the form of a commodity. (p.49)


Marx, Communism, Overtime, Working Hours, Social Theory, Political Economy


Marx, Employment

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