Belfast Telegraph

This new age of work just sucks life out of the living

By Robert McNeill

If I've a box about my person, I think out of it. The doings of my fellow man are a source of perpetual fascination and mirth. For example, in a recent radical realignment of my synapses, I questioned why we sit down at the same times to eat.

Why not just eat when we're hungry? I tried this but, after my weight had ballooned to 20 stone, with the discovery that one can always pretend to hunger, I reverted and rejoined the herd, strapping on the old nosebag again at the traditional times and horsing down my victuals with happy regularity.

Still, at least I tried. So let me run this one past you: why do we all work so much? Who said a 40-hour week was normal and that we all had to do it? Part-time work would be more proportionate and leave a few hours for that phenomenon so many lives lack: life.

I remember when computers were just starting and speculation was rife about how they'd affect our lives. In particular, it was posited that we'd need to work just a third as much, and that the consequent freedom would let creativity flourish.

In reality, what happened was the capitalists just sacked two thirds of the workforce and made the remaining third do their work on top of their own. At heart, we remain serfs.

This is particularly the case for people who did badly at school and who, consequently, are punished by being forced to take jobs that start at 8am: tradesmen and the like.

But we punish ourselves too, by submitting to work where the rules ain't devised by us.

T'was ever thusish. Currently, as you might expect, I'm reading The Emigrants, a series of novels by Vilhelm Moberg (translation: William Moberg) about Swedes leaving their homeland for yon America in the 19th century.

It's no wonder they left. They worked all day and were beaten by their "masters".

The masters don't beat us any more. But, in 2011, try going home early to do something with your life and see what happens.

Indeed, try stopping work before you reach 65 and see what happens. All right, I know, the gilded generation before mine has never had it so good, and we all know folk who retired at 50 and spend their whole time holidaying abroad thanks to generous pension arrangements.

These arrangements no longer apply, leaving you and I to contemplate an old age dominated by continuing drudgery, writing and so forth.

A survey says 36% of citizens over 65 expect to keep working for the foreseeable future. I've no problem with the age, which is arbitrary. It's the number of hours. You say: "But you could work part-time, big-nose. It's your choice."

A good point, well made.

But the problem with part-time working is the peanut-style pay. That's because most part-time jobs are unskilled. You don't get part-time prime ministers, not since Pitt the Elder. Proper jobs, with decent dosh, are rarely well paid.

The answer is to make everyone part-time - on a good wage. It could be done, particularly with widespread arrests and the imprisonment of objecting capitalists, economists and suchlike.

That's my thinking and, despite many serious and fundamental flaws in the plan, it is the way ahead.

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