Wednesday, 21 May 2014

My own boss

I promised myself I would post every other Wednesday. I am obviously late. I apologise to those who still bother reading me. There is one other thing you should know about me: I am always late. Always. In France, I was on the edge of acceptability. In England, I was being French. In Germany, I am straight rude.

So there. I am always late, and I am no writer. That's expectations dealt with. I was starting to feel pressured from the many positive comments on my first post, for which I am very thankful. Now, please give way to mediocrity.

Not that long ago, we celebrated Labour Day. Out of all bank holidays, it is my favourite. Sod Christmas. And I do ask myself why it does not have more fans. It should, after all, be one of the favourite celebrations of anyone employed, should it not? Perhaps its popularity is not higher because of the efforts which seem to be put everywhere to distract us from the very meaning of this day.

I here take a moment to remind myself of it: the celebration of the struggle of Chicago workers for an eight hours working day. Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for life, they said.

In France, Labour Day coincides with the welcoming of Spring. We demonstrate with Lilly of the Valley, hand in hand. Upon arriving to England, I thought there was no Labour Day. This fitted my French beliefs, that the English eat jelly for breakfast and have no public services. I was far more shocked when, upon visiting a doctor for the first time in the UK, he did not charge me, unlike in France. So much for French socialism and English capitalism. 

I later understood that Labour Day had been displaced to the first Monday of May. It was called May Day. I cannot argue against the convenience of such an arrangement. Workers automatically know they will have a long week end at the beginning of May, unlike in France. 

The flip side is that not many workers know that May Day celebrates their struggles and rights. How convenient too. In fact, word on the street is that in the UK, May Day may be scraped altogether and replaced by a celebration of the Trafalgar victory. No space for workers' rights in today's Britain. Antagonism against France, and more generally Europe, sells more, and costs nothing.

Now I am in lefty Berlin. Here everyone else is perceived as a big capitalist threat, even transient tired tourists. They make prices go up, walk on bike lanes and kill hot Berlin club nights with their long faces and high heals, apparently. So I was looking forward to my big Berliner demo on Labour Day, secretly hoping to feel the spirits of Rosa Luxemburg and her gang. I followed my Berliner Fellows, who took me to what looked like Notting Hill on Carnival Day. I must admit I was disappointed . “The demo is somewhere else. It's finished now”. So much for not checking myself. Never mind, I'll go next year, and Kurdish folk dancing is fun too. And a bit political. A bit.

Among the blurring sound systems and the cheap beer, I tried to remember: eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for life. 

That was their motto, back in the 19th century. It could still, sadly, be ours. Who amongst my friends works an average of eight hours a day, in reality? I mean, counting the emails they constantly answer to, and the work they take home during evenings, mornings and week ends?

In a recent article, the Guardian mocked the French for introducing the idea that the use of professional smart phones and emails outside of work hours should be regulated. Not that ridiculous if you ask me, though most workers would willingly opt out anyway. We are told that our jobs are fulfilling and important, and that we are lucky to have them. Yet we resemble fancy factory workers sitting at desks, churning file after file. 

One thing sure distinguishes us from factory workers: our lack of political consciousness. Who amongst us joined a union? Instead, we turn up at work on week ends to try to finish the mountains of work we are given, we drag ourselves to the office when we are ill unless we literally cannot make it there and we apologise for not working remotely on our wedding day. Bosses can lean back, even play it well and beg us to go home when we are on the brink of collapse. They know we won't anyway.

After all, maybe we deserve the scrapping of Labour Day. It should not be replaced by Trafalgar Day though. Given how much we have interiorised the exploitation of our work force, we should have an Alienation Week, during which we would all work double, sleep in the office and desperately try to end our to do lists, whilst our bosses send us pictures of their week off. Hear hear!

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