Taking time

Time passes l o u d l y in rooms like this. There’s a resonance to each movement of the hand, human or clockwork, and every dash, tick, and period echoes echoes across across the white space that surrounds it. The gaps between the seconds , between pen and paper, are futures waiting to be filled. Exam season in school highlights how regimented and {time-bound} the structures we live and work under are. In education, almost every minute of the day is accounted for,

  • allocated
  • a
  • purpose,

dis / sec / ted into hourly blocks, thirty minutes for lunch. Each of these is further c/ut up into easily digested 5-10-20 minute activities so that every moment is efficiently utilised. In schools, as in prisons and factories, time is a tool, a means of controlling and structuring our lives.

Limits of time Our time is finite, or infinite, but we are told to make the most of it regardless. How time is organised can impact what access we have to it for our own purposes. Early labour struggles were aware of this. Whether it was the reduction of hours worked

12 hours a day 10 hours a day 8 hours a day,

or the protection of time outside of work for personal use/recreation, workers were fighting for their share of time. Stonemasons went on strike in Australia as early as 1856 demanding 

8 hours labour 8 hours recreation 8 hours rest.

The push for the five-day week and a guaranteed weekend were part of this same struggle. However, workers’ ability to control their own time has been under constant attack. Shift patterns now encompass (a l l t i m e s) and for many low-paid workers, these times are varied week-in // week-out {} day-in // day-out, making it increasingly difficult for workers to organise their free time when they have it. The worst iteration of this is the culture of 0-hours work. The sporadic and insecure nature of the work offered means that many feel on edge, the potential of work looming over their free time like a death on your birthday. Time as control isn’t just in the day-to-day either but across the lifespan mandatory schooling >> age of consumption >> retirement age. In France, the attacks on the current age of retirement has led to mass protests and revolt – time spent wisely.

Time is corporal Time has bodily consequences for those at its mercy. In Smallcreep’s Day, one of the factory workers talks of how the time-pressure of piece-meal work (today’s delivery economy is akin) means his body becomes routined, mechanical to the point where the motion of embracing his children resembles turning a screw, tightening a bolt, fitting a part. Those who work irregular shift patterns find their sleeping patterns equally irregular, d is r u p ti ve to the point of exhaustion. Our social lives are determined by how time is divvied up and distributed to us. The difference between finishing work at 18:00 and finishing at 21:00 can be the difference between having a social life // going from work – sleep – work,  between seeing daylight // living in darkness. Those who worked in the mines in Northern England used to go for days, weeks without seeing natural light. In the Winter months, they would 

wake before dawn, coal-

dust eclipsing the day, night 

settling before close.

Even our time on this planet is determined by our positioning, our experiences, the politicisation of our time. Those working in low-paid work of the irregular / exhaustive / time-intensive kind have a significantly lower life expectancy. Their time is cut short.  More directly, waiting times in the health service are at dismal levels after a decade of underfunding, leading to thousands of unnecessary deaths. The response to this hasn’t been to increase funding but to alter the acceptable times, so that our experience of time, of waiting to be seen, is no longer controversial. We are meeting targets, we are on time.

Time is political Time, how it is distributed, utilised, acted upon, and enforced is a powerful tool. Our experience of time through work, imprisonment, education, is a political document emphasising the inequalities of the system we inhabit and how our lives are controlled. Time can also be a tool for us – a powerful act of reclamation – organising our lives around our priorities, rather than those of employers, determining what we do with the time allocated us. The push for a 4-day week, an end to zero-hours contracts, an end to incarceration, for fixed shift patterns and a universal basic income that will allow non-capitalist forms of existence to flourish, are all a continuation of a long struggle of workers laying their claim on their time, demanding a say in the organisation of their own lives.

Time comes for us all in the end – maybe we should try to take time before it does.

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