Wednesday, March 22

unemployed to work

Where I live it is customary to appear fog. There are days when it is so dense that you cannot see the sea, sometimes not even the beach. Those days the cold enters the body, to the marrow, as my grandmother used to say, and the bones growl. The city, hopelessly, abruptly ends. It’s a strange feeling. The impossibility of seeing beyond seems to activate the walker. He no longer looks at the horizon, he concentrates on his daily tasks, on his work.

The verb to work comes from the vulgar Latin tripaliareto torture, derived from Late Latin tripalium, instrument of torture formed by three sticks in which the slaves were tied so that they suffered a punishment. When this word was conceived, the majority of the population worked in the fields making a great physical effort that was perceived as a punishment. Work was for the poor, that is, for almost everyone, while the elite enjoyed free time to think, have fun, organize society or simply look at the horizon. Something not very different from what happens today.

The burnout or burnout syndrome; the boreout o situation of chronic boredom within the workplace that can trigger health problems due to anxiety and stress; the Bullshit Jobs or junk jobs that cause low self-esteem and demotivation of workers, are realities that are triggered more and more frequently in the work environment. An environment in which we spend many hours, an environment that is not democratic even though our society is, an environment in which conflict is a constant. Our jobs are developed in increasingly worse conditions. However, whether we like it or not, in the society we have created, employment, not work, defines our reality. Employment is a reduced version of work. Yet it has a central place in our lives and in our identities.

A broad concept of work will include not only the productive work, both of a product or a service, that is incorporated into the market; but it will also include work that generates social solidarity, reproductive and care work, and work that generates personal self-realization, so it does not necessarily consist of an activity from which we obtain an economic benefit. From this broad point of view, work can be defined as the set of tasks and activities that people carry out to satisfy their vital needs. We can speak, if you like, of two different notions of work. On the one hand, a restrictive or limited job (what we have been calling employment) and, on the other, an extensive or open job, which would include other activities necessary for the full life of the person.

If we focus on restrictive or limiting work, the illusory idea has been generated that value creation results solely and exclusively from it, from work that provides economic benefit. Economic wealth is the only possible wealth and employment is the only one that combines benefit, recognition and social utility. Now, contradicting these same false postulates, in recent times the precariousness of employment conditions has meant that, although employment is necessary to be able to cover the economic needs of individuals, it is sometimes not enough to cover them in their entirety, creating the figure of the working poor.

Thus, it is revealed to us that poverty is not collateral, extraneous and marginal damage, but rather a normalized element in capitalism. With data provided last year by Eurostat, people in employment exposed to the risk of poverty in 2018 was 9.3% across the EU-27. Registering relatively high rates of employed workers at risk of poverty in Romania (15.3%) and, to a lesser extent, in Luxembourg (13.5%) and Spain (12.9%). We still don’t know how COVID is going to impact this working class poverty, but clearly not in a positive way. The salary increase agreed in the agreement closes 2021 at 1.47%, more than 5 points below the CPI; only 15.8% of the registered agreements present a wage guarantee clause and one out of every five agreements freezes wages. Given this situation, it is not necessary to underline the importance of raising the minimum wage and the responsibility and social commitment of the business community, for whom human capital must be essential to maintain competitiveness. Competitiveness based on innovation and responsible management of human resources are guarantees of success for companies.

If work makes us sick and also allows us less and less to cover our needs, I ask myself, why don’t we change our way of proceeding? Why don’t we reduce the time we spend at work and give ourselves more time to work? Why don’t we move from a limited or restrictive conception of work to an extensive and open one? Why accept that we are only consumers and producers? If our model of society is increasingly harmful to live, it is accommodated in a market economy where growth is still desperately sought and, however, does not allow the necessary conditions for a sustainable life for all citizens, why are we unable to change our behaviors? Is it possible to reduce the time we dedicate to employment? The 40-hour workweek was approved in the last century, isn’t it time to review this time dedicated to employment?

Already in 1516 Thomas More, in Utopia, opts for a 6-hour schedule, more than enough duration, according to the author, to procure the necessary resources to cover basic needs. Campanella, in his work city ​​du soleil, of 1611, bet for 4 hours per day for both men and women. Perhaps with this proposal the much demanded conciliation of work and family life would be possible and life more sustainable.

Much to our regret we are dependent and vulnerable beings, COVID has reminded us of this in an extremely painful way. Caring has always been essential, caring for the environment in which we live and caring for those around us, although it seems like a last-minute discovery for some who urge us to care for ourselves. But for this we need time, to reformulate priorities. Time we lose in jobs that do not cover our vital needs. Neither unions nor politicians seem, in general, to be interested in this issue. They are trying to return to the situation prior to the 2012 labor reform, but of course not trying to get to the bottom of the matter, which is none other than a change in society’s conception of work.

Rise in the minimum wage and reduction in working time, that is the starting point for, like Augusto in Niebla, not to be walkers but walkers of life. Having time to look at the horizon when the fog lifts at noon and reveals the faint January sun, while I tell my son that lazy people are not those who don’t have a job, but rather those who drown their thoughts.

Economists Without Borders does not necessarily identify with the author’s opinion and it does not commit any of the organizations with which it collaborates..