Monday, October 25, 2010

Labour Day

Today is Labour Day, when we celebrate the establishment of the eight-hour day in New Zealand. Back in 1840, Samuel Parnell and his friends broke the British custom of 12 - 14 hour days, and ensured that right from the beginning, New Zealanders would have time in their lives for things other than work. And its entirely fitting that we celebrate this victory for leisure with a holiday in the sun.

The CTU is taking the opportunity to highlight the erosion of Parnell's achievement. But I think we need to go beyond just defending past gains against the greed of the bosses, and instead present a positive goal to aim for. The 40 hour week recognised that there is more to life than work, that we need time to spend on ourselves and our friends and families. I think we should have more of that. Overseas, they're experimenting with 4 day weeks, effectively changing work patterns to give everyone a three-day weekend. Other countries have tried shifting to a 35-hour week, and taking their increased living standards as time rather than material goods. Both of these are worth pursuing. Parnell won us the eight hour day by refusing to work any longer, and by persuading others to do the same. I think its time that we collectively followed his lead, and demanded more time in our lives.

(Meanwhile, there will be anti-union rallies in Wellington and Auckland today. I understand that those involved are trying to protect their livelihoods. But doing so by trying to limit the right of others to do the same? That's just shameful.)