The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Time for Some Vacation Fun—But Who Has the Time?

Jun 21, 2004

Summertime and the living is easy–except when you’re at work. And then it’s as hard as–and as hot as–Hell. Enough to make you start looking forward to your vacation–that is, if you get one. Many of us don’t.

Today, in the 21st century, in the wealthiest country in the world, 21% of us get no vacation at all. For most of the rest of us, it’s not much better. If we work in private industry, we average less than eight vacation days a year, and get just over six paid holidays a year. When we work for a government agency, we get a few more paid days off–but not enough to compare with what happens elsewhere.

People in other countries must think we are barbaric here! Other industrialized countries legally grant vacation time to every worker. Austria, Denmark, Finland, France and Spain actually require bosses to pay for 30 holiday and vacation days a year for every worker–that is, six weeks. In fact, workers in all of these countries average even more paid time off than the legal requirement. Most other industrialized countries require at least four weeks of paid time off a year. Canada is one of the exceptions, with only two weeks paid time off. But only in the U.S. do workers have no right by law to a single paid vacation day, no right to a single paid holiday. We may have a holiday off, but neither the federal government nor any state government requires the bosses to pay us for it.

That’s not to say that things are great in other countries. It’s just that they’re worse here.

We have been letting the bosses take advantage of us. Big time. In fact, they even brag about it. They explain how high the level of worker productivity is in this country–that is, how fast they get each one of us to work, how much labor they squeeze out of each one of us, every hour, every day–and how many extra hours they force us to put in. And they brag about the immense profits pouring out of this increased productivity.

To live in a country where our work produces so much wealth, only to have it stolen from us–it’s an outrage!

If our labor produces more goods and services in the same amount of time, we could be working fewer hours, still getting paid as much as before–if not more. In 2003, those of us who work in factories put out 5.1% more production every hour than we did in 2002. In 2002, our productivity increased by 7.2%; in 2001, by 2.2%; and by 4.7% in 2000. And so on. Add up all thosepercentages, and you can see that in much less than a decade we could have been working ten fewer hours a week, with NO loss in pay. We could be getting more paid vacations days every year, more holidays–more time for ourselves, our families and our friends.

That is, we could have been, if all the benefits of this increased productivity had gone to us, instead of to big corporations, which use the profits they steal from us to buy up other companies, speculate on the stock market, invest in other countries (often pushing this country into wars to protect their investments)–anything and everything that is disastrous for the population, but beneficial for the bank accounts of the wealthy.

Increased productivity can raise our standard of living–quickly and spectacularly. If it takes much less time to build a house, many more houses can be built by the same number of workers, lowering the price, giving many more workers the chance to have a home–IF the benefits of increased productivity went to those who do the work.

Increased productivity has become a scourge–it steals our energy and our time from us. And, yet, it should be the very thing that opens up the door to a better life for all of us–more time for relaxation, more time for doing our business, more time for some culture, some education, some fun. More time to do what we want and become who we want.

Increased productivity can raise our standard of living and our quality of life–but only if we wrest its benefits from the bosses who today are hogging it all for themselves.