Brett Hetherington

Banner photos: Cornelia Kraft

Nothing temporary about work

  

 

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, February 2018.]


 

The good times are back and we don't need Prozac! The conservatives who run Spain and most of Europe would have us believe this is because the economic growth figures and employment statistics are apparently rising at a faster rate than they have for almost a decade (when the average person was plunged into a 'crisis' that was not of our making.)

What we have to ask is who is now benefiting from this bright new dawn?

In actual fact, the IMF recently found that over the last few years the economic gap between the rich and poor has grown faster in Spain than any other country in Europe.

Astoundingly, the number of millionaires has risen by 40% but the number of Spaniards living in “severe material deprivation” doubled to just over three million people, according to the charity Oxfam.

The profits from economic growth have been almost completely handed to the wealthiest.

And who is in new work?

Again, the reality is bleak. Temporary workers now make up more than a quarter of the workforce in Spain and this is not only for seasonal work.

Part-time contracts have become more common among hospital workers, teachers, those in the information technology industry and even public servants.

Statistics show that short-term jobs made up about 90% of the contracts signed last year. Roughly one in four lasted seven days or less.

 

According to a report from the highly informative Business Over Tapas news service, the UGT (one of Spain's most influential unions) said that the labour market was still suffering the effects of the crisis and austerity measures implemented by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government.

"In December 2017 just four out of every 100 contracts signed were long-term and full-time," they found.

In my experience there is another attitude to work here that is strange. It is the dominance of so-called “projects” inside companies and it is used to justify poor work conditions.

This means that our jobs are often made up of tasks that have very limited time windows and require bursts of energy rather than methodical or consistent effort.

 

It’s a symptom of the era we live in that what we care about are events, festivals and spectacles more than equality or social justice and this has infected the way we work too.

Short-term thinking and short-term contracts have been at the cost of longer-term economic planning by both governments and companies: the exact thing that has helped Japan and China produce new industries out of ruins.

 

This ‘temporariness’ might sit well in a modern world where our attention spans are shorter than ever before but it disturbs me.

If work is to be satisfying (or even fulfilling) it must have a greater purpose than the simple moving of objects from one place to another or the organisation/supervision of this activity. (That is how the great philosopher Bertrand Russell defined work.)

If we accept the proposition that we will spend the longest part of our lives working, it is obvious that work itself is anything but temporary.

What we essentially do in our jobs goes on day after day and to do these jobs well demands concentration, focus and significant psychological effort.

When this is taken for granted in the form of almost meaningless ‘contracts’ (which are almost always written by employers alone) it insults our existence as living creatures who have evolved beyond animalistic toil and servitude.

But as Russell also argued, on top all this there are the idle rich, who “are able to make others pay for the privilege of being allowed to exist and to work.”