Wednesday 17 September 2014

Work To Death

It seems that I may have to find this book and read it: "The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure" by Juliet B. Schor
The labouring man will take his rest long in the morning; a good piece of the day is spent afore he come at his work; then he must have his breakfast, though he have not earned it at his accustomed hour, or else there is grudging and murmuring; when the clock smiteth, he will cast down his burden in the midway, and whatsoever he is in hand with, he will leave it as it is, though many times it is marred afore he come again; he may not lose his meat, what danger soever the work is in. At noon he must have his sleeping time, then his bever in the afternoon, which spendeth a great part of the day; and when his hour cometh at night, at the first stroke of the clock he casteth down his tools, leaveth his work, in what need or case soever the work standeth. 
-James Pilkington, Bishop of Durham, ca. 1570
The contrast between capitalist and precapitalist work patterns is most striking in respect to the working year. The medieval calendar was filled with holidays. Official -- that is, church -- holidays included not only long "vacations" at Christmas, Easter, and midsummer but also numerous saints' and rest days. These were spent both in sober churchgoing and in feasting, drinking and merrymaking. In addition to official celebrations, there were often weeks' worth of ales -- to mark important life events (bride ales or wake ales) as well as less momentous occasions (scot ale, lamb ale, and hock ale). All told, holiday leisure time in medieval England took up probably about one-third of the year.
Some food for thought there. Industrialism, it appears, had as a greedy side-effect (getting the most out of their machines by working everyone long hours for a pittance) - thus we now have the idea of workers in modern times having it better than in the old days (40 hours a week vs 80 hours a week).
During one period of unusually high wages (the late fourteenth century), many laborers refused to work "by the year or the half year or by any of the usual terms but only by the day." And they worked only as many days as were necessary to earn their customary income -- which in this case amounted to about 120 days a year, for a probable total of only 1,440 hours annually (this estimate assumes a 12-hour day because the days worked were probably during spring, summer and fall).
Spain is also a good one, supposedly they had holidays for 5 months of the year.

Tell me - again - why I should work myself to the bone for someone else's profit.


  1. Machines that relieve people of back-breaking labor are an improvement, right? You might check changes to the skeletons of medieval workers related to heavy labor. Sitting in a cubicle doesn't compare.

  2. Some problems, like hernias from physical extortion, didn't register in bones anyway.