richard pierce

richard pierce

25 August 2018

First-World Slavery - Of Human Bondage

Does anyone remember the days before Sunday opening? Or the time when nothing happened on Sundays? Or when certain large supermarkets were closed even on Monday mornings? Or those days when we couldn't get hold of our service providers at all at the weekend? No? I'm showing my age, obviously.

We have become so used to having access to everything all the time that we don't spend any time thinking about the effects of our constant needs on the people who have to traipse to work on those days when we have lie-ins, when we're at leisure, when we're the ones taking a deep breath because our week is over, because we're at rest. We take it for granted that we can call insurers, on-line vendors, can quickly jump into the car to make a forgotten shop, have everything available to us all the time. It's an insidious thing, this, and although I might call it a First World problem, it goes deeper than that.

We like to think of ourselves as activists, as folk who strive to make the lot better of those in the Third World who have to slave in sweatshops, pride ourselves on our ethically-correct way of living, but we forget that what we do at home actually just makes everything worse for those we think we're protecting.

There are employers, many employers, in the UK, who stay open on Saturdays and Sundays, who don't announce the shifts for their workers any more than five weeks ahead, who make their people work on bank holidays and Sundays, and I'm not talking about the wonderful emergency services on whom we all rely. How often have you phoned in a complaint to a service provider on a Sunday or bank holiday without even thinking about it? We all go on about modern slavery in the context of poor people being imprisoned in grubby cellars and rooms, and not allowed to see the light of day, and forced to do unspeakable things behind the walls of silence, but have we ever thought about those people in air-conditioned offices, on a Sunday afternoon, sitting there fielding phone calls from irate enjoyers of leisure just so that we don't have to arrange our working days to have ten minutes of free time to make our arrangements?

It's time we looked ourselves in the eye and realised that what we're doing is allowing rich people to get even richer by employing people on minimum wage or zero hour contracts, or just shit money, to pander to our affectations, to pander to those of us who have regular working weeks. It's time we called for call centres to operate only 9 to 5 on week days and to be closed on Saturdays and Sundays. It's time we demanded that supermarkets and DIY chains close on those days, too. Because we're allowing people's lives to be put into disarray, to be messed up, to be led by opportunistic forces that are anything but forces for the good. And, in the same vein, we should fight for night shifts to be made illegal, for working people to be allowed as much leisure time as those who think they work for a living but just sit behind desks pushing pens and crunching spreadsheets.

Just think about how many more people would need to be employed on proper contracts, not zero-hour contracts if we did do this. Just think about how many people's lives would better, how many people might actually be able to enjoy normal lives, fulfilled love lives, decent hours of sleep, and be able to plan their lives and spend time with their children if we did this. And imagine how this might cascade on to the Third World sweatshops and call centres. The world might even become a better place.