With climate change threatening life as we know it, perhaps it's time to revive the forgotten goal of spending less time on our jobs
"It provides coordinated action and collaboration across fronts of struggle and national borders to harness the transformative power we already possess as a thousand separate movements. These grassroots justice movements are sweeping the globe, rising up against the global assault on our shared economy, ecology, peace and democracy. The accelerating climate disaster, which threatens to unravel civilization as soon as 2050, intensifies all of these struggles and creates new urgency for collaboration and unified action. Earth Day to May Day 2014 (April 22 — May 1) will be the first in a series of expanding annual actions," the group announced.
San Mateo resident Ragina Johnson, who is coordinating events in the Bay Area, told us May Day, the international workers' rights holiday, grew out of the struggle for the eight-hour workday in the United States, so it's appropriate to use the occasion to call for society to slow down and balance the demands of capital with the needs of the people and the planet.
"What we're seeing now is an enormous opportunity to link up these movements," she told us. "It has really put us on the forefront of building a new progressive left in this country that takes on these issues."
In San Francisco, she said the tech industry is a ripe target for activism.
"Technology has many employees working 60 hours a week, and what is the technology going to? It's going to bottom line profits instead of reducing people's work hours," she said.
That's something the researchers have found as well.
"Right now, the problem is workers aren't getting any of those productivity gains, it's all going to capital," Schor told us. "People don't see the connection between the maldistribution of hours and high unemployment."
She said the solution should involve "policies that make it easier to work shorter hours and still meet people's basic needs, and health insurance reform is one of those."
Yet even the suggestion that reducing work hours might be a worthy societal goal makes the head of conservatives explode. When the San Francisco Chronicle published an article about how "working a bit less" could help many people qualify for healthcare subsidies under the Affordable Care Act ("Lower 2014 income can net huge health care subsidy," 10/12/13), the right-wing blogosphere went nuts decrying what one site called the "toxic essence of the welfare state."
Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders parroted the criticism in her Feb. 7 column. "The CBO had determined that 'workers will choose to supply less labor — given the new taxes and other incentives they will face and the financial benefits some will receive.' To many Democrats, apparently, that's all good," she wrote of Congressional Budget Office predictions that Obamacare could help reduce hours worked.
Not too many Democratic politicians have embraced the idea of working less, but maybe they should if we're really going to attack climate change and other environmental challenges. Capitalism has given us great abundance, more than we need and more than we can safely sustain, so let's talk about slowing things down.
"There's a huge amount of work going on in society that nobody wants to do and nobody should do," Carlsson said, imagining a world where economic desperation didn't dictate the work we do. "Most of us would be free to do what we want to do, and most of us would do useful things."
And what about those who would choose idleness and sloth? So what? At this point, Mother Earth would happily trade her legions of crazed workaholics for a healthy population of slackers, those content to work and consume less.
Maybe someday we'll even look back and wonder why we ever considered greed and overwork to be virtues, rather than valuing a more healthy balance between our jobs and our personal lives, our bosses and our families, ourselves and the natural world that sustains us.