The Work Ahead: Make Time for Bread and Roses

Most Americans, not only mothers, feel increasingly time crunched. The Wall Street Journal confirmed that Americans are working 20 percent longer today than in 1970, while work-time has declined in other industrial countries. Our vacations are disappearing—a recent Harris survey found that 37 percent of women earning less than $40,000 a year (and 28 percent of all working women) receive no paid vacation at all. On average, Americans work nearly nine weeks (350 hours) more each year than western Europeans.

What might an agenda for free time look like? A new “It's About Time” coalition including the organizations Take Back Your Time, Work to Live, and Mothers Ought to Have Equal Rights, has proposed a “Time to Care” public policy initiative that would:

 •    Guarantee paid childbirth leave for all parents, and at least one week of paid sick leave and three weeks of annual vacation leave for all workers.

•    Limit compulsory overtime.

•    Guarantee hourly wage parity and protection of promotions and pro-rated benefits to make it easier for Americans to choose part-time work.

•    Make Election Day a holiday so Americans can take time for civic and political participation.

A bold campaign for “Time to Care” would support families—marriages, friendships, and children all suffer from our lack of free time. Having more time would also promote community building and civic participation, environmental quality (studies show overworked Americans are less likely to recycle, more likely to use throwaways), health (lack of time for exercise and proper diets leads to obesity, while workplace stress costs the economy more than $300 billion a year), religious and spiritual growth (as we would have time for reflection and spirituality), justice (poor and minority Americans are least likely to have paid leave and other time protections), a higher quality of life (Americans would have the option to choose simpler, less materialistic lifestyles), and more jobs for those who need them (less overtime could result in more work for others who need it).

At one time, organized labor and enlightened church leaders championed campaigns for more time. When thousands of women textile workers walked out of the mills of Lawrence, Massachusetts, during the great strike of 1912, they carried signs that read: “We Want Bread, and Roses Too.”

But somewhere along the line, we got “bread and butter” unionism focused solely on wages. The roses were left to wilt. Americans need the roses—we need more time for the things that matter most. It's all a matter of values.

John de Graaf is National Coordinator, Take Back Your Time,  
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