It really doesn’t make any sense, even from a capitalist point of view
I think it does, if we consider that next to the profit rate itself, the most important part for a capitalist is how to secure it. What needs to be done from that pov is something that a large part of the state apparatus is already occupied with, yet is also crucial for individual companies to concern themselves with: instilling discipline into the labor force.
There are two ways how to attempt to increase surplus value through what usually just appears as productivity in most statistics:
- Relative surplus value increase: To increase productivity by increasing the productive forces, usually by means of technological change, better division of labor, increasing cooperation and all around better discipline through all of that
- Absolute surplus value increase: To increase productivity simply by increasing the length of the work day, using the work day more efficiently by decreasing breaks for example and/or intensifying the work irrespective of physical human limits (let people work longer/harder = more products = more sales = more profit)
Politically, what the labor movement, for obvious historical reasons, feared the most was the second. The first simple regulations were partly pushed for by the state, as it recognized that it might not be good for long term stable accumulation for the economy as a whole, if the workers died like flies. Something the individual capitalists cannot really consider, as their existence is dependent on short term profit making in the face of competition. The “8 hour work day”, the weekend etc. though were bitterly and violently fought for concessions in the late 19th to early 20th century. Yet ever since (over 100 years) the length of the workday has officially stayed the same and productivity has skyrocketed. Not that they weren’t important before, quite the contrary, but what really reached a new level during the 20th century (and to this day) was the development of the means of production and the productive forces and thus the attempt for the first: the relative surplus value increase (think of the “fordist” model until the 70s crisis for example).
I think we might see, at first, a split development in terms of working hours. There will be jobs (even if they are mainly in commodity circulation like retail and logistics) where the tendency will be to once again focus on the methods of absolute surplus value through more intense/longer work and only use relative surplus value increase like automation and discipline through division of labor and cooperation as a necessary addon, and jobs where the circumstances are such that the more liberal/progressive or the increasingly desperate capitalists not wanting to rely more and more on finance, can attempt to increase relative surplus value by reducing the share of absolute surplus value, in the hope that the first becomes more efficient and total surplus value will increase (like many office jobs or creative jobs in the entertainment industries). Of course all this ignores that the entire thing will likely often turn out to just be straight up snake oil from the individual workers pov, like a lot of people here and elsewhere rightfully point out, but it might not always be.
It is crucial though that this is not a concession against their will, but simply a possible management strategy. Therefore, should their fears come true and they determine that this change leads to a loss of labor discipline and workers wanting more as opposed to self-discipline, increased work ethic and loyalty, making everything less efficient or somehow else produce unwanted costs and thus threaten their bottom line, this will be turned back faster to the safer methods than the eye can see.
In the long run, absent of class struggle forcing the opposite, this will likely happen anyway, even if the change succeeds, as any advantage a capitalist gains, will be nullified once the competition inevitably adopts the same changes leaving the absolute increase as the safest method (also, the idea that continuing to decrease the work hours won’t cut into profits is of course ridiculous. That way is out of the question).
Also, the horror of 19th century absolute surplus value increase until one drops dead has already been alive and kicking for the past 50 years. Just not necessarily in the capitalist centers, but the previously colonial regions, where most of the old and obviously fundamental productive industries were outsourced to and where barely any legal protection exists as of yet, and if it’s up to them (which is much easier to do than in the capitalist centers, because of dependencies), never will, because the (non-financial!) profit rate would tank even more than it already does.