Medieval Peasants’ Workweek: Much Less Than You Can Imagine
|November 28, 2013||Posted by Staff under Social Change, Thanksgiving|
The US Congress seem to be the only people in America getting as much down time as the medieval peasant. They get 239 days off this year.
This 2013 excerpt of Reuter’s Great Debate, Aug 29, is by Lynn Parramore.
Plowing and harvesting were backbreaking toil, but the peasant enjoyed anywhere from eight weeks to half the year off. The Church, mindful of how to keep a population from rebelling, enforced frequent mandatory holidays. Weddings, wakes and births might mean a week off quaffing ale to celebrate, and when wandering jugglers or sporting events came to town, the peasant expected time off for entertainment. There were labor-free Sundays, and when the plowing and harvesting seasons were over, the peasant got time to rest, too. During periods of particularly high wages, such as 14th-century England, peasants might put in no more than 150 days a year.
When workers fought for the eight-hour workday, they weren’t trying to get something radical and new, but rather to restore what their ancestors had enjoyed before industrial capitalists and the electric lightbulb came on the scene. Go back 200, 300 or 400 years and you find that most people did not work very long hours at all. In addition to relaxing during long holidays, the medieval peasant took his sweet time eating meals, and the day often included time for an afternoon snooze. Our ancestors may not have been rich, but they had an abundance of leisure.
As for the modern American worker? After a year on the job, she gets an average of eight vacation days annually.
Some blame the American worker for not taking what is her due. But in a period of consistently high unemployment, job insecurity, and weak labor unions, employees may feel no choice but to accept the conditions set by the culture and the individual employer. In a world of “at will” employment, where the work contract can be terminated at any time, it’s not easy to raise objections.
Ironically, this cult of endless toil doesn’t really help the bottom line. Study after study shows that overworking reduces productivity. On the other hand, performance increases after a vacation, and workers come back with restored energy and focus. The longer the vacation, the more relaxed and energized people feel upon returning to the office.
Economic crises give austerity-minded politicians excuses to talk of decreasing time off, increasing the retirement age, and cutting into social insurance programs, and safety nets that were supposed to allow us a fate better than working until we drop. But the Greeks, who face a horrible economy, already work more hours than any other Europeans. In Germany, an economic powerhouse, workers rank second to last in number of hours worked. Despite more time off, German workers are the eighth most productive in Europe, while the long-toiling Greeks rank 24 out of 25 in productivity.
Beyond burnout, vanishing vacations [and expanding workweeks] make our relationships with families and friends suffer. Our health is deteriorating: depression and higher risk of death are among the outcomes for our no-vacation nation.
Ed. Notes: You want a solution to too much (useless) work? You need to get some income that comes from some other source than your work. You need to get paid not for your labor or your capital (your savings / investments). You need an income from your land, or, more precisely, from all the land in your region — sort of like Singapore’s dividend to citizens from its high land values, sort of like Aspen’s assistance to residents for housing from a tiny partial land tax, and sort of like Alaska’s oil dividend to residents. With that extra income, then you could negotiate not just more time off but also higher wages, better conditions, and more say in management. And you’d become more productive too, so then you could take even more time off!