The Pacification of Labour: The Holiday


With the season of summer well and truly setting in (I am currently sat in the glowing sun writing this), a thought that I have been dwelling on for some time has began to crystallize. The topic in question is the issue of holiday entitlement. What I am particularly referring to is the regulated, short term travel of millions of westerners to sunny countries around the globe. Although in a time of austerity in Britain and elsewhere annual leave and holiday times are being slowly eroded by the employer, there does still exist a consensus that a salaried (or hourly) contracted job entitles the employee to a certain amount of holiday, however sparse or generous. The essential nature of such time away from what can seem banal 9 till 5 normalcy for many is undisputed, but what I am looking into here is the current state of how holidays are used by these typical employees. Unlike other essays I am not presenting articles and statistics I have read, this is purely a monologue of my theoretical thoughts on the matter. Such musings can sometimes be just as important as well researched articles and statistics, particularly if one is just beginning to build up an opinion on something they have not looked into before.

Unlike the majority of the population at the present moment in time I am not in work – possibly the reason for my musing in the first place – but like a small minority I am looking for work. Being a recent graduate this is particularly hard. As soon as the lexis “graduate” is inserted into an email or telephone conversation the other individual appears to simply zone out or dismiss you. Despite this, in the past I have been in periods of doing 40-60 hour weeks (ironically on a zero-hour contract) so I do have experience of what it is like to toil away as much of the populace do on a daily basis. The reason I feel this actually adds to the force of my argument and does not detract from is that I was in fact compelled to pursue this kind of employment contract in order to find the necessary flexibility in yearly money-earning. In this way I could study at university whole-heartedly in the term-time and slog away at work in my time off. Due to this, I did not actually have a period during the yearly cycle where I could have a “holiday” to re-coop – or muse. What I did find is that I gained the escapism that most of human kind desire – and often need – within my studies. I was probably lucky in that I thoroughly enjoyed my degree, however, I began to think why people feel the necessity to travel abroad for an “all inclusive break”. I found the simplest answer was that: with workloads ever increasing, staff being laid off and neoliberalism having a good gnaw at the public sector what they were told is to ship themselves off to the sun and they’ll feel better. But will they actually?

Probably not. When they return their boss will be as grumpy as ever, their workload will continue to increase, and they’re probably more tired than when they left from trying to cram in some sightseeing in the short annual leave they did receive. All they can really look forward to is their next week off, when they can shop for another all inclusive, groaning as the prices quadruple in the popular summer months. The question I want anyone reading this to ask themselves is ‘why?’ 

In this world of theoretical musings, holidays exist to distract or even pacify the worker to their increasingly dire conditions at home. The extra money they may have gained in wage rises (if any) in the past few years is most probably squandered on the rising costs of their favoured destination. So why would an individual still pursue such a nefariously cyclical escape? The root of the answer to this question lies in Marxist economics. As businesses within the capitalist system increase their profits yearly, they allocate some to investing in new outlets or maybe staff (although the latter is not common nowadays), but if they have truly embraced capitalism then they will go towards the CEO’s bonus, or even a generous wage increase for the upper management. These profits could quite easily go towards increasing holidays for workers, or decreasing hours, the latter of which is particularly noteworthy. Since capitalism was young it has led to increasing technology and innovation, usually new and more efficient ways to make more money for businesses (and thus more profits for the capitalists). And due to this, the individuals labour power (how much they can produce in a certain time) became vastly multiplied, in some sectors it may be by 100’s of times. The way that I see it, this increased productivity has been a positive innovation (Marx does tell us that capitalism brings progress of sorts), but is currently squandered in contemporary capitalist society. This increase should be utilized to bring down the daily hours of work, even to an average of 6 or 4, solving a plethora of societies problems in one.

The most important (at least, for a political scientist) is that it would leave more hours of the day for citizens to engage in politics, in it’s many forms. This in turn would lead to a more equal society, as the working classes with new time to read and socialize became more educated. They might even join trade unions and/or political parties that aligned with their views. Whatever the outcome, workers of the modern world deserve such a situation not just because they have earned it, because it is their right. With their time at work less arduous, and I hope their lives much happier as a result (and more productive, to assuage capitalists protestations) the farcical cycle of a sunny escape would no longer be a necessity. If they so chose, of course they would be encouraged to journey abroad, but no longer would they simply laze around in the sun due to a backlog of exhaustion. Would workers even need weeks away at all? To this question, I have no answer. However, I urge all readers, young and old, to question why they go on holiday. I also encourage those politically engaged individuals to think on the implications of decreased working hours. If you share my convictions I have no doubt the positives will outweigh the negatives.

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