Rejecting the neoliberal idea of maximal productivity

Matthew 12

I was in church yesterday when this passage from the gospel of Matthew was preached by John Rowley, a man for which I have the utmost respect. John’s a retired engineer who is an associate vicar in our parish. He was talking about the importance of work, of craft, but also of the spirit of the Sabbath.

What really struck me, as I sat helping with the A/V for the service, was that as a society we tend to focus on the letter rather than the spirit of the law. And by ‘the law’ I mean not only the law of the land, but the kind of implicitly contracts that bind our working lives. No matter what your religious beliefs and affiliations, it’s pretty clear that working continually without rest is good for neither the individual nor society. Productivity has to have a point to it.

Today is a Bank Holiday in England, a day of rest for most people, where they get a chance to do all of the things they’ve been meaning to do up to that point. For some, that’s a bit of DIY, for others it’s spending more time with their children, for others (like me!) it’s a great chance to catch up with some reading. 

There’ll always be people looking to treat others as ends rather than means. Those who say that the workforce has too many holidays, too many benefits, that this generation ‘has it easy’. These kind of people see human work as something that can be ‘mined’ or ‘farmed’ for maximum profit. We should be rising up in solidarity against such mindsets and approaches. 

I’m fortunate to have been able to create a situation for myself where I can choose to work four days a week. So, for me, this is just another four day week, but with the ‘day off’ being a Monday rather than a Friday. Despite that, I still find there to be something a little sacred about the idea of Bank Holiday. Perhaps it’s the idea of everyone (or most people) being off work together. Perhaps it’s just the notion of a ‘bonus day’. Whatever it is, I think we should value this time and explicitly not seek to make it maximally productive.

Whatever that means.