From The New Humanist:
For many people, jobs are boring, low-paid, humiliating and increasingly scarce. New Humanist asks three young writers: what if we just did away with them? In discussion with New Humanist are Federico Campagna, author of The Last Night: Anti-Work, Atheism, Adventure (Zero Books); James Meadway, senior economist at the New Economics Foundation; and Dawn Foster, a journalist who writes on social inequality.
NH: Federico, what are you trying to say in your book by comparing work to religion?
Federico: When I first moved to Britain from southern Italy, I noticed this strange attachment to work, which contradicted the image I had of Anglo-Saxon rationalism. Instead of the activity of work being efficiently aimed at something, it was going round in a circle. People kept working overtime and I kept wondering, “Why do they do that? They are not going to get any praise, they are not going to get any money, they’re actually damaging their lives, so why do it?” I noticed there was a religious element, in the sense that work gives you something that nothing else does, which is that you became part of something bigger than yourself. You sacrifice your life, but what you get is somehow immortality, you become part of capital, part of the nation, part of the everlasting glorious community, and so on.
The idea of the “Protestant work ethic” has been around for a long time, so how much is this a new development?
James: What’s very striking – this is from a pure economics point of view – is that since 2008, productivity, in Britain, has declined, so for every hour that people are working, they are less and less productive as time goes on, certainly relative to similar countries. A typical hour worked in Germany now produces 30 per cent more monetary value than a typical hour worked here. And in the last 30 years or so, the progressive end of society seems to have wandered away from questions about the working day, how long it should be and what you do with it, and how much time you get after it. The demand for shorter working hours was at the heart of the labour movement from the early 19th century onwards.