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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Work And Time Off

Now that school has started any working person who has children will be taking time off for school plays and sports events. And those working persons who don't have children will be glowering quietly at their desks, or making snarky comments about the privileges of parenting. I think if employers treated all their employees equally, and if people weren't overworked and stressed out, there wouldn't be any disagreement or friction over time off. And American workers really take much less time off than most other workers all around the world.

PSoTD asked the denizens of his blogroll a powerful question: What should the federal holiday, "Labor Day", mean to America? And how should we appropriately honor the day?

In the U.S.A., Labor Day is celebrated in September. In most other countries, it is celebrated on the First of May, a day that is coincidentally sacred to Wicca as well as the Catholic Church.

Labor is honored on one day every year, or was. In the U.S. today, in our supposedly classless society, labor is no longer honored, but treated as a problem. A day is still set aside each year when workers are, supposedly, given time off. Yet Labor Day is now the day, or weekend, rather, for blowout sales and barbeque, and fall fashions and back-to-school shopping. It's the last shopping weekend before the major sales of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, when retailers count on moving this year's goods off the shelf in preparation for next year's stocks.

Perhaps we've forgotten that without labor, we would not have this country. Working people built the engines of our commerce, planted the fields with grain, harvested the bounty of the land to set our tables, created roads and buildings, and made it possible for us to enjoy everything we have.

Working people joined together in unions, modeled after the medieval trade guilds, to guarantee basic rights and benefits for all their kind. We have the unions to thank for the 8-hour day, the 5-day week, vacation time, pension plans, health care, so many other of the benefits we enjoy.

Over the past decade or so, workers' rights have really come under assault in the U.S., with employers passing more and more of the cost of basic benefits, like health care, back to the workers. Two-tier employment systems have been created, where workers who have a greater amount of experience or time served with a particular employer, get better benefits, or more time off.

At the same time, we are facing tremendous changes in the nature and structure of work. Where once a person could count on working for the same employer till they died or retired, these days we can count on having multiple jobs in multiple careers. Where once we had pension benefits to help us through our old age, these days, we take charge of our funds and invest them in 401(k) plans, and woe betide the ignorant, the foolish, or the gullible. Where once we knew we could count on Social Security to help us, now every thug who suckles at the government teat schemes to take that money away from the people who work for it and turn it to their own profit.

Americans take less time off than most workers in other countries. They are afforded less time off, too. Given that this country chooses to celebrate Labor Day in September, I propose we give workers the entire week off, fully paid, so that those of us who are burdened with children can attend to their needs, and those who are childfree can be guaranteed at least five days out of their year when they do not have to work.

Studs Terkel said (I paraphrase) Work Sucks, and he was right. Most Americans profess to love work and refuse to admit that work eats up more of their lives than they are willing to throw away. Yet, if you ask people what they would really like, most will gladly admit they hope to win the lottery or receive for free some sum of money that would allow them to tell their boss to stick the job. They want pina coladas on some sunny beach, not another day in the gray cubicle.

What it all boils down to is, in the end, as you're lying on your deathbed, you won't regret that you didn't spend more time in the office. We work to live. We should not live to work.

And employers need to live by the maxim, "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And the laborer is worthy of his hire."

Now, for just an added dollop of mad, check out this chart which shows how much vacation time workers get in other countries. And breathe deep.

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At 11:39 PM, Blogger Brian said...

It seems reasonable to celebrate Labor Day by doing something other than working, in honor of the who brought us the weekend, and all that. If some people choose to spend the time shopping, what of it?

Also, I don't think it's fair to concentrate on the time people take off to be with their kids. What about time taken off to be with their parents, or for medical reasons, or take a trip around the world? People take time off for all sorts of reasons, and it's only fair to cover for them because you'll want to take time off yourself someday.

At 12:24 AM, Blogger ThePoliticalCat said...

The issue is not that some people choose to sepnd the time shopping. The issue is that, in order for those who "choose" to shop to do so, those who service them must work. Stores must open, clerks and order processors, managers, waitstaff, cooks, dishwashers, and others by the score must go to work on a day or days that ought to be a rest from their labours.
As for time off, that's precisely what the article I linked to says: that all workers should have the right to time off, regardless of whether it's to perform caretaking duties for others, or to have a life.

At 10:27 PM, Blogger Brian said...

If we all worked and took time off at the same time, the shops wouldn't have any customers when they're open, and they'd miss out on customers when they're closed.

The issue here isn't that people should all take time off at the same time (which is impossible), but who has to adjust their working hours. A store that keeps banker's hours isn't going to do well. I suppose banks got away with it because they were so heavily regulated.

Also, when half the population wasn't in a formal job, they would do their shopping during the day. So increased hours are probably a side-effect of everyone working.

At 9:08 AM, Blogger ThePoliticalCat said...

That's not entirely true. In much of Europe, stores open a little earlier and close slightly later than office hours. This means that people do their grocery shopping before or after they go to work, or during their lunch hour. Restaurants and food service places tend to open when offices close or empty for lunch. Workers don't stay at the office after 5. It works out nicely for everyone.


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