By Niall Christie
Inequality. Unhappiness. Overworking. Unemployment. Carbon Emissions. Lack of enjoyment. These issues have been entrenched in this country’s society for decades, with the days of prosperity and reward after a long working week now distant memories. But if plans backed by the Green Party can be believed, the antidote to our ills isn’t to work harder, but actually to take the weight off.
Announced at their Spring Conference, the Green Party of England and Wales, alongside the Global Greens, threw their support behind a 21-hour working week spread across four days. While this may sound counter-productive in today’s world of automated work and a move away from the industrial Britain of the past, leading politicians from the party argue that the socio-economic benefits of the policy could be felt at all levels of society.
Brighton MP Caroline Lucas, co-convenor of the party, indicated that given the state of politics at the moment, trust in the left will need to be earned through radical ideas that will affect all, not just a chosen few. “For young people in particular, let down by Brexit, the Green message is one of a more hopeful alternative,” said the MP. “If you want a Party interested in moving forwards, not turning the clock back. Then come and join us.”
“We are exploring policies like a three-day weekend, and fair pay. The Greens are a political movement that redistributes both money and power. One that redefines the relationship between work and life. One that embraces the future. Pioneering and forward facing. A future better balanced between what we own and how we experience life – and tipped towards what genuinely makes us happier.”
Despite a mixed reception, and at times sceptical reception from the public for their suggestions, Lucas and her counterpart Jonathan Bartley have backing from numerous sources. Primarily based upon a 2010 report published by the New Economics Foundation, the idea has also received backing from The Economist, while a number of environmental think tanks have pointed out that this model would provide a much more manageable and sustainable working environment.
Per the New Economics Foundation (NEF), the suggestion that working shorter and fewer days could be a seamless transition, with this already the average amount of time spent in paid employment per week across the UK. The only difference being that the burden would be shared, providing those with longer working hours more time-off, and allowing people who may struggle with present levels of full-time employment a chance to re-enter the workplace.
According to 21 hours: “Time, like work, has become commodified – a recent legacy of industrial capitalism. Yet the logic of industrial time is out of step with today’s conditions, where instant communications and mobile technologies bring new risks and pressures, as well as opportunities. The challenge is to break the power of the old industrial clock without adding new pressures, and to free up time to live sustainable lives. To meet the challenge, we must change the way we value paid and unpaid work.
“A much shorter working week would change the tempo of our lives, reshape habits and conventions, and profoundly alter the dominant cultures of western society. Arguments for a 21-hour week fall into three categories, reflecting three interdependent ‘economies’, or sources of wealth, derived from the natural resources of the planet, from human resources, assets and relationships, inherent in everyone’s everyday lives, and from markets.”
With the dark cloud of Brexit looming large over Scotland in particular, the ties between what the NEF has predicted could improve and the frontline battles facing the working-class population cannot be overlooked. Even with healthy scepticism, there appears to be growing support for any political suggestion made with a thought-through plan of action. It may be early days, but with the potential for this to be included in the Green’s next manifesto, other parties up and down Britain may have to seriously consider asking people to drag themselves away from work a day early for the weekend.