Americans are overworked. After declining for a century through hard-fought labor movement victories, average annual work hours increased approximately 8 percent for all working adults from 1979 to 2016. In Worked Over, sociologist Jamie McCallum reveals how the battle over time on the job has been central to conflicts over capitalism from the beginning, how overwork is at the heart of the inequities and injustices in America’s economy today, and why workers must fight to take control of the time they spend working.
From Amazon warehouses to Silicon Valley campuses, from late night Uber deliveries to later night strip clubs, from factories in Ohio to retail floors everywhere, McCallum explains how the contemporary American workplace exploits workers’ time and constrains their lives. Whether it’s the manager’s stopwatch, the scheduling algorithm’s dispassionate authority, or our own internal clock that pushes us because we’re afraid of falling behind or losing our jobs, ordinary people have lost much say over when and how much we work. Work, more than anything else, dictates when we sleep, eat, raise our kids, and live the rest of our lives. Popular discussions of overwork tend to focus on striving professionals, but as McCallum demonstrates, it’s the hours of low-wage workers have increased the most, and it’s their working lives that remain the most precarious and unpredictable in a service-oriented, on-demand economy. What’s needed is not individual solutions but collective struggle. Throughout Worked Over, McCallum offers inspiring stories of how the battle to win back control of time has been renewed today by those most vulnerable to the capitalist society’s electronic whip.
Combining the rigor of a scholar, the storytelling of a journalist, and the vision of an activist, McCallum shows that winning shorter hours will require a radical break from our current political and economic system. Worked Over is an inside look at why our lives became tethered to work — and how we might regain a greater say over our work time and build a more just society in the process.