After pointing out that “speedup” refers to practices designed to wring more work for less money from employees (think Lucy in the candy factory), Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery point out that calling it “productivity increases” doesn’t make it any less insidious. Employees give the productivity and employers keep the increases.
Now the word we use is “productivity,” and pundits across the political spectrum revel in the fact that year after year, American companies are wringing more value out of their employees than they did the year before. Just counting work that’s on the books (never mind those 11 p.m. e-mails), we now put in an average of 122 more hours per year than Brits, and 378 hours (nearly 10 weeks!) more than Germans. Worldwide, almost everyone except Americans has, at least on paper, a right to at least one day a week off, paid vacation time and paid maternity leave.
Sure, but we all have to do more with less — employers struggling to survive the downturn are just tightening their belts, right? That’s true for some. But in the big picture, the data show a more insidious pattern. After a sharp dip in 2008 and ’09, U.S. economic output quickly recovered to near pre-recession levels. The United States did better than most of its fellow G-7 economies. But U.S. workers didn’t see the benefit: During the recession, far more people here lost their jobs than anywhere else, and far fewer were hired back once the recovery began. And who knows what will happen now that the economy has made another downward turn?