Will daylight savings finally come to an end?
What are the origins of daylight savings?
There is a long and traceable relationship between the bourgeoisie and the mastery of time born out of its very nature as a class that buys hours of labor power.
If standardizing schedules in a global territory to synchronize and coordinate large-scale production and convert the global market into a single structure was the expression of ascendant capitalism, breaking the year in two was the almost immediate product of its passage into decadence. In fact the imposition of seasonal schedules occurs in the context of the war economy and the birth of state capitalism.
At the end of 1915 the German high command began to suffer from fuel supply problems. The government then decided to devise ways to cut the consumption of the workers, since that of the factories and the military supply lines had to be reinforced.
Somebody recalled an old letter by Benjamin Franklin, another watchmaker of the eighteenth-century bourgeoisie. Franklin proposed to the "Journal de Paris" an idea which, in theory, made it possible to reduce the consumption of candles by waking up earlier during the summer to enjoy the first light of the day. And so, on April 30, 1916, Kaiser Wilhelm established daylight saving time. Great Britain and France followed suit that year. In 1919, the German revolution for the war, makes the kaiser abdicate and leads to the abandonment of the seasonal time change. [...]
The association between the time change and the war economy is explicit. The German press recalls that between 1940 and 1949, Hitler's government re-imposed the seasonal time change in Germany and that the measure was recuperated precisely because of the return of the crisis and rising energy costs in the 1970s and 1980s.
Nothing would better symbolize a capitalism in perennial crisis than playing with the clock twice a year.
The change of time and the spirit of capitalism, 28/10/2018
What was the intent behind the re-imposition of daylight savings in the 1970s?
Paris at the beginning of the oil crisis years
According to the newspaper El País, on April 5, 1974, the Council of Ministers meeting in El Pardo -a euphemistic way of saying that it was presided over by Franco- implemented the change of schedules as part of a package of...
reduction measures aimed at limiting, as far as possible, the consumption of energy resources, without reaching definitive restrictions.
Spain was then a pioneer in these types of measures among a group of just six countries - France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Andorra - which would be joined in 1978 by Italy.
Did it work?
No, not at all.
Already in the first years of this measure energy companies noted that variable schedules had little impact on energy savings. In addition, newspapers regularly received floods of letters from readers opposing the measure.
Governments responded over the years with fanciful estimates of what they could save on street lighting... if they turned it off across the board at night, a practice that never caught on.
And yet, despite general resistance and more than well-founded doubts about their usefulness, seasonal schedules not only spread but became Europeanized and became part of European law with quasi-constitutional value.
Why was an unpopular and unproductive measure not abandoned?
Workers at a bakery attend to a worker on his way to his station early in the morning. Photo by Alberto Cubillo
Firstly, because it demonstrated to the governments that they were capable of implementing energy saving policies... that neither bothered the powerful electricity industry nor got politicians and electricity and construction companies involved in negotiating incentives for the improvement of networks and the adaptation of housing. It was a gesture and, above all, a cheap gesture.
Secondly, because those were years in which, in the midst of the tensions of the Cold War and the wave of class struggle, it served as social gymnastics - a homeopathic version of the Sacred Union - and visibly projected for all to see the power of governments to effectively order social life. The government signed a decree and all the rhythms went along with it.
Why did the EU consider abandoning it in 2018?
It might seem strange that after decades of "keep it and don't change it", it was only in the early stages of the European Green Deal that the measure was reconsidered. But one of the reasons given was precisely that. It made no sense to maintain a measure of exceptionality, historically linked to the war economy and not very productive, when measures were going to be imposed that were really going to bring changes and impose sacrifices on millions of workers in the name of the sacred climatic union and therefore everything should be made to look as normal and routine as possible.
Moreover, more and more countries - Russia in 2011, Turkey in 2016 - and a growing part of the US, were leaving or considering leaving the system.
To top it off there was a happy meeting between the European Commission and the European Parliament that precipitated the change. Moved by the international examples, the complaints that used to go to the newspapers now were directed at the European institutions. And the debate in Germany, which was given wings by the press, gained considerable public presence.
The then President of the Commission, Juncker, saw the door open to initiate a participatory process of the citizenry, to ally himself with the Parliament that wanted to gain political legitimacy, and to demonstrate the capacity of the European institutions to mobilize support in the countries and to impose themselves on the governments.
Why didn't it come to anything?
After opening a space on its website to collect opinions in which four and a half million people participated, the Commission informed the states of the need to eliminate the current system. Some, such as Spain, responded with delight.
However, others, such as Portugal, demonstrated a resistance before Brussels that surely not even they were capable of imagining, but which served as a gesture of sovereignty that symbolically compensated for the many humiliations of the debt and banking rescues. That is, at no real economic or political cost. After all, the Juncker Commission had little time left and major concerns in the US.
The sterile theatrics of the annual time change thus became the sterile theatrics of the European game to eliminate the measure.
Why is it still standing?
Bureaucratically, the explanation is that the Council, formed by the European governments, does not have a joint position yet. The excuse is that some countries prefer to stay on summer time while others prefer winter time and that in Germany the citizens prefer summer time where the idea is to eliminate it. It is difficult, if not impossible, to agree on time zones to everyone's liking, we are told.
They forget that governments can choose the schedule they want and that they will do so according to the time of the neighbor with whose capitals they are most connected. At the end of the day for them it is all about matching stock market and corporate governance schedules. That is why Portugal and Ireland follow British time, while Spain follows Paris and Berlin time. Once they choose Germany and France, everyone will know what time they want to have.
On the other hand, the main argument, besides the points that could be given to the Commission and the Parliament by satisfying a generalized opinion, was to eliminate an emergency measure associated with the war economy and rationing.
But of course, energy rationing and various war economy measures are and will be in abundance... especially in Germany. Daylight savings is too irrelevant in contrast to what the 30% energy savings the German government needs to impose on households this winter means for people's health and even survival for anyone to worry too much about it.
Will it finally be eliminated someday?
In the short term, it is quite possible that the European Council will be encouraged when the US Congress, as is foreseeable, passes the bill already passed by the Senate authorizing all states to move permanently to daylight saving time. Certainly a sepoyism hard to beat.
But there is another precedent. The German Revolution of 1919 cut short the first imposition of seasonal time change. Daylight saving time only returned after its defeat with the definitive triumph of Hitler's counterrevolution.
In this article we can only suggest to recover the time that was stolen from us and to resume the debate in the terms of 1919.
- Daylight savings is a measure linked to the war economy characteristic of decadent capitalism. It never generated significant energy savings but was adopted again in Europe after the crisis of the 1970s to demonstrate the states' capacity for action and social control.
- The process to reverse this measure in the EU in 2018 was a real theatrics intended to show that no exceptional measures would be needed to develop the "Green Deal".
- Now that all are exceptional measures and that the War Economy has advanced to the point of imposing a reduction of up to 30% in household heating, the issue is "too irrelevant" to come unstuck soon.
- It is possible that European governments will agree to eliminate it, following the US, which will surely do so in the second part of Biden's term. But there is another precedent: the German Revolution of 1919, which abolished seasonal time change by its very existence.