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Section 3: Clock-watchers
TOPIC SECTION:
Clock-watchers
Control over the length of the working day started long before Marx would have us believe. The reality of life in his ‘rural idyll’, in which he had peasants happily toiling in tune with natural rhythms,
Picture: 03_10318230.jpg
The clocking-in machine: an automated boss keeping tabs on the workers.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
 was in fact depressingly familiar to our own times. For most, the working day was fixed and time was owned by the boss. Even when the working day was dictated by the Sun, workers argued over the precise time of sunset. And when work could carry on into the ev
Workers saw clocks – whose workings, unlike the Sun, could be tampered with – open to abuse
ening and the private (as opposed to the publicly-controlled) clock was used to set the length of the working day, conflict increased as the workers saw clocks – whose workings, unlike the Sun, could be tampered with – open to abuse. Conflict over working time both reflected and drove increases in clock accuracy. Clocks didn’t have a minutes hand until the seventeenth century when the pendulum clock was invented. Then, as accuracy increased, the seconds hand was added. These new, tiny fragments of ‘working time’ fostered an obsessive drive for ‘efficiency’ of the work done during working time.

The early twentieth century saw Frederick Taylor with stopwatch in hand recording the precise time taken to perform repetitive tasks in the factories and clerks’ offices. In an attempt to define the ideal marriage of time and motion, Taylor pushed control and efficiency to the forefront of factory life and the intensity and regularity of work hit new extremes. New technologies of electric clocks and time signals disseminated the definitive time of day from a central master clock to slave clocks in the workshops, office walls and clocking-in machines, and even controlled the factory whistle. Now, in call-centres around the world, time-and-motion is pushed to the limits of control.

Picture: 03_10250311.jpg
Office life, the nine-to-five.
Credit: NMPFT
The master clock placed the control of ‘working time’ further out of sight of the workers whose lives were ordered by it. But the many wage labourers could not afford their own timekeepers – by which they could check the clocks controlling their working day – until after the First World War, when new manufacturing techniques and increased social acceptance made the wristwatch cheap enough for the masses. Mass production led to watches for a dollar and, later, a combination of tiny quartz crystals, cheap electronic circuitry and new mass-production techniques meant that everybody in the western world could afford an accurate timekeeper.
 
 
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Whose time? Whose money?
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Time isn’t money. It’s what people do with their time that gets the capitalists excited. This section looks at the way time and money became entwined in our minds and lives, and how, despite notions of an idyllic rural past, we’ve always been wage-slaves.  > more

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How much are you worth?
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It’s the same eight hours, but for some reason the chief executive’s are worth more than the cleaner’s. How have changes in society affected the way we view the period of time after the paid work ends – are we just wasting time?  > more
 
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