Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Impossible Dream in the United States: An Annual Paid Vacation

One required by law.  American workers have no idea how it would change their lives for the better.  Think of a month off when the children are out of school, too, a month off without extra money worries or the fear that you will lose your job because other worker-ants work harder and take less time off. 

Think of what a month off each year could do to your bonding with your children, your health, your ability to learn, your ability to have a family in terms different than glancing at your children when they are already asleep.  Think of how much less angry and aggressive people would be if they could trust on that time of recuperation and it wouldn't mean that everything is lost in the rat-race.

The lack of such paid legally required vacations in the US is an atrocity, in my not-so-humble view.  The lack is also invisible, and when it is discussed it is discussed from the angle of the employers:  How can we compete with other countries who are even more exploitative than we are?  Never mind that the European countries mostly do offer paid vacations for their workers (and even paid maternity leaves, gulp!) and that the countries which do not offer such leaves may also not care about safety rules or the protection of the environment, thus engaging in unfair competition.

Paid federally required vacations are an impossible dream in this country, because there are no worker-side organizations that can push such issues.  The American right has effectively killed the unions.  Or put in different terms, the employer side is well organized (even represented by the US government in international trade talks) but the employee side is not allowed to organize.

Paid vacations are an impossible dream, because the reality is that American workers are losing the benefits they used to have, so going for new benefits is a pipe-dream.  The forty-hour-work-week is pretty negotiable, today, and in any such negotiations the firms have the upper hand: 

"You don't like to keep working overtime?  Well, lots of worker-ants out there desperately seeking an anthill to join." 

Indeed, firms have so many desperate people to pick from that some refuse to even consider those who are already unemployed.  Paid vacations, Echidne demands?  She is a joke.

In my view, all this is extreme capitalism.  Few things remain to keep it under the kind of control it needs.  Socialism and communism as alternative economic models are dead or very sick. Globalization has removed many of the old restraining controls on capitalism, leading it towards the lowest shared denominator (which allows countries without social safety networks or without environmental protection to set the going prices).  Nation states are becoming too weak to fight the multinational corporations, unless they are already cooperating with them and thus share their goals, and I don't see any multinational workers' organizations of similar power to the power of the multinational firms.

The American workers are well-schooled, on the whole, expecting nothing but the fiercest and most primitive competition for the available slots.  What those slots offer is much less than they should offer, and the current political process is busily trying to kill the last spots of unionized labor in this country (teachers).

This is a pendulum post, if you wish.  The pendulum in this country has swung so much against the interests of the ordinary working people that the quality of life has decreased for even those who count themselves among the middle classes. 

This situation does not automatically get better.  It requires organizing in order to get the kind of counterveiling power that is needed, and it requires massive cooperation in that process.  The atomized view of Americans works against that and so does the American odd idea that we are all but one step from joining the billionaires, and I fully appreciate the difficulty of the task.  But the Democratic Party is no longer standing for the ordinary working people (because of the way money buys votes in the American system), and someone else must do the necessary work.