Work Work Work

By Margot Pepper
Source: Race, Poverty & the Environment, Volume 14, #1, Spring 2007
A similar piece appeared in Processed World and The Utne Reader. 

WorkStudies have shown that the time workers believe they have to themselves really belongs to an authoritarian presence, particularly on week nights. For no apparent reason the subject will up and leave a movie, a party, even a steamy moment of passion. In 97% of the cases the explanation the subjects gave was the same: “I have to work tomorrow.”

Further, results have concluded that there’s a dramatic increase in cell phone usage during work nights, television-watching, web-surfing and anti-depressant drug-ingesting, paralleled by an astounding decrease in learning behavior, and a strange affinity for traffic, collars, ties, high heels, panty hose and pancake make-up, even on stifling hot muggy afternoons. This has led experts to believe that the time a worker can likely claim as his or her own is in fact limited to weekends–though with the arrival of the unofficial 6-day work week, even this is in doubt.

But supposing one does have a “good job” with weekends, holidays, benefits and two weeks of vacation: two days a week your life belongs to you. Two x 52 weeks in a year + 10 days of vacation-leave + the 9 official holidays equals 123 days of life per year. Now if one has gone to college and graduates in 4.65 years as per government statistics and works full-time from twenty-two until a retirement age of sixty-six, one can count on a total of 123 x 44 years, or 5,412 days of life during this period.

In other words, the average “forty-hour” week worker is alive 5,412 days/365 days in a year = 14.82739726 years from the time he or she is waiting for life to begin after graduation up until the time he or she is still waiting for life to begin not long before death. Fourteen years, nine months and a little over twenty-eight days. Let’s round this figure to the fifteen year mark, because after all, in spite of statistics, people do get sick and some actually fail to show up at work when that happens. In fact if you can manage to swing ten sick days a year and two days off instead of one on Thanksgiving and Christmas, you could pull off 16.2739726 years of life. That’s a bonus of over 1.4 years, and if you’re fired this figure increases dramatically.

There you have it folks: fifteen years of life, 8.25 of which must be subtracted in that 44 year period if you’re an average 4.5 hour-a-day TV-watcher, according to Nielsen. So really, six and three quarters years of life—provided you can ignore work email–twenty-one spent in purgatory waiting for this life and twenty-nine years of indentured servitude to enrich those who’ve hardly worked at all.

So just don’t do it is all. Join a union, organize a general strike for a 36-hour or less work week, engage in anti-work. Anti-work at something you love, something that will better our collective lives and bring down a system of primarily unnecessary, even harmful work–like business speculating; real estate, energy and health care gouging; writing or disseminating government propaganda or designing nasty widgets for the sole purpose of blowing them and cuddly little children up. Stop the machine and turn on the dream, that’s the real work to be done in a society such as ours.

Margot Pepper is a journalist and author whose work has been published internationally by the Utne Reader, Monthly Review, Znet, Counterpunch, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, City Lights, Hampton Brown and others. Her memoir, Through the Wall: A Year in Havana, was a top nomination for the 2006 American Book Award.

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