01 May 2012

May Day

May 1st is traditionally a day when the crowds gather in Fælledparken, right around the corner from me. The political parties give speeches, the labor unions are represented and everyone gets stone drunk in the afternoon. My basic nightmare. The only thing worse than a crowd, is a drunk crowd, which is why I am not suited for festivals. I would rather sit on a rooftop with a handful of good people and barbecue, sipping gin and tonic's or something. Or just stay indoors and ride it out.

But today I saw a demonstration that actually made sense. Of course it was in my own neighborhood, and it was basically just a message to end capitalism. Not let it rule our lives. That is something I can get behind.

Capitalism is crisis

Capitalism is crisis.

Work less, live more

(Banner reads:) Work less, live more. 

I often wonder about the way the system is set up. They talk about cutting away public holidays, and adding more hours in the workweek. While thousands are unemployed. It makes absolutely no sense to me. If anything, everybody should work less, and this way everyone could chip in? Or did I miss something? I don't believe we are put in this world to work until we pass out, and live like robots in our precious spare time.

Copenhagen, May 1st

Capitalism is anti-social, stupid, blunt, violent and destructive. Strike, share, fight, love.

It was not a big crowd and they were peaceful, but in this part of town, there is always heavy police presence. They have total control of these marches, with a big bus in front, and one in the back. Today everybody played nice. I always try and crop out people's faces, to not get anyone into trouble...

Copenhagen, May 1st

...but sometimes they make it impossible, haha.

What is your take on working harder vs. living more? I would love to know.

31 comments:

  1. Part of the reason we like the idea of moving to the Netherlands is that we hear most people don't work a full 40-hour work week :) Not because I'm lazy, but because I feel like my work should enable the rest of my life, not swallow it up.

    We have the same situation in the U.S., where people work extremely hard - we've passed Japan in the number of hours worked per year on average - and yet the standard of living of people in the U.S., if you take away the top 10 percent, is about equivalent to that of Slovenia.

    That means, not surprisingly if you're paying any attention, that a very few people are making a whole lot of money on everyone else's hard work. Excuse my language, but FUCK THAT.

    I agree, before you start forcing everyone to work harder and longer, just to pay the people at the top more money, let's re-direct some of that capital to give the people out of work and starving, or selling drugs just to get food, or being forced to prostitute themselves for basic necessities - let's redirect some of that capital from the fat guy with 4 hummers and a 5 million dollar house, to give them a chance to actually live a life.

    Of course, it's all planned out - you force most people to work so hard they're too exhausted to think much, and the rest of the people, you force them into situations where they have to do illegal things to get by, then you arrange the prison system so that it's a corporation, making money off cheap labor of the inmates, and then you incarcerate all those people who you forced into illegal activity, and work them hard for almost no pay.

    Well, sorry for the long rant, but I suppose you can tell how I feel about this issue :) I'm happy to work as little as I need to in order to enable myself to do the things I want to do. I feel very little need to accumulate money, past a reasonable minimum. I feel no need to continue to accumulate more and more things - I would much rather spend money to enable experiences, to travel, to eat, to photograph, to create.

    Of course, in the U.S., if you mention the word Socialism, people immediately start picturing Stalin and the great purge. Capitalism saved the world from the evil scourge of Socialism, don't you know!?! Somehow, I don't think the situation described above is quite the 'freedom' we were all hoping for, though :)

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    1. This is one of the reasons I don't get the resistance towards the Occupy movement. They have a very valid point. I hope their message is not completely drowned out already.

      The situation is not the same here, but capitalism rules the day here too. Even the socialist parties sound like the other side now. The banks are still protected, and the poor feel the cuts. It is all wrong. They say that we should all chip in, which first and foremost means work more. Again: why can't we have more people work less? Instead of the other way around?

      But we are all caught in the hamster wheel because even the basic living expenses are through the roof here. Landlords buy cheap houses, "fix them up" and rent them out at exorbitant prices, all legal. If you want an apartment, you must go co-op, and that means a steady well paid job, and a bank that will go along. And then you are stuck. Just the thought of it impairs my breathing. But this is how you control people, you give them something to lose. And no option to chose otherwise. Sneaky, really.

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  2. jeg er helt helt enig! Jeg holder fri næste semester, og de fleste har spurgt mig om jeg så skal arbejde en masse osv.... men jeg skal bare holde fri! Åbenbart et tabu i den moderne verden.

    Jeg lagde forresten mærke til, at du skrev, at du altid satte lidt ekstra tid af til alting, så du kunne stoppe og tage billeder af gademusikanter osv. Det tænker jeg at tage til mig i mit frisemester!

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    1. Åh, hvor lyder det bare helt rigtigt. Så kan du finde dit eget tempo, det er en kæmpe gave at give sig selv. Det er rigtigt at folk flipper ud når man taler om at nå mindre, og ikke gøre alting på den mest "effektive" måde.

      Jeg bruger foreksempel min mobiltelefon som en slags fastnet, den ligger næsten altid derhjemme. Så checker jeg den bare når jeg kommer hjem. Og sjovt nok fortryder det næsten altid når jeg har den med mig rundt.

      Rigtigt godt frisemester når du når så langt.

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  3. It's interesting, I've heard that traditionally in Japanese culture, they arranged to do things in more tedious ways to make it take longer, and therefore require more people to do the job, so that more people would be employed. For instance, in making sake, I heard this is primarily why they take the rice grains and actually sand them down to a certain point - because if you do it that way, you can employ quite a few more people in the process. It's a completely opposite mindset from ours.

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    1. YES! I noticed this in Paris too. At the vegetable market (a store, I don't know the word for it in English), they had the coolest system: One guy knows the vegetables really well, like which beans are from Kenya, and which tomatoes have the best flavor for a simple salad, he packs what you need and give you a piece of paper with the total.

      Then, you take three steps across the floor, and give that note to a woman at the register. As you pay, he brings over your neat little packages (that he had his own way of packing, spinning them in the air, making almost little ears out of them). Then, you have another two guys standing in front of the shop, overseeing the street display, and helping out. That is a total of four people. You feel crazy pampered, and they get the dignity of having a job, and doing it well.

      Efficiency would have killed this system here in five minutes flat. We even have machines where you can scan your goods, minimizing human contact.

      I immediately thought: why can't we have that here. To hell with efficiency, it is about allowing everyone to have a purpose. Oh, and the beans were crazy tasty, just like he said they would be. :-)

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    2. It's interesting, I think there are some number of parallels between French and Japanese culture - they both have an interest in food as an art form, they both have a knack for subtlety (you can even see that in their languages, with very subtle, delicate pronunciation). Sure, it's good to think about efficiency - you don't want all your workers just sitting doing nothing all the time, but I agree, that type of system you saw in the vegetable shop gives a greater sense of dignity and care to everyone involved.

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    3. We could all stand to learn from each other. Some things we do really well in Copenhagen and Denmark, and other cities are not afraid to ask for advice. I wish we could adapt things from other countries too, like bike parking from Amsterdam, and the food culture from France and Italy. Look hard at how they manage to have big functional farmers markets there, and then do the same here. What are the obstacles? And then eliminate them. Ah, I should be in charge, then things would get done. I promise.

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    4. :D I'll vote for you! Sandra for Queen! Hej Høj! (By the way, are you tall, as your name suggests? :)

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    5. Compared to the Danes I am of normal height. I think. Maybe we are a tall'ish people..

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  4. One last comment :) I'd also much rather sit on a roof with a few good friends, a barbecue and some sausages (or veggie burgers, if you prefer) :), and a couple bottles of brilliant wine, and just watch the sun set, rather than get caught up in a huge crowd of drunk people partying. I would love to do that today actually, except there are no rooftops you can get onto here, and it's raining :) Oh well. Maybe if it stops raining long enough, I can try out the pipe tobacco I just got (hazelnut scented).

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  5. Yes, Sandra needs to be in charge!

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    1. Haha, just give me the chance! :D

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  6. hey guys, interesting conversation. As a French, I have to add my 2 cents though. In France most of us work 35 hours a week, something that capitalists try to change really hard, but a lot of good people fought for that. Unfortunately, it's not always as the veggies market, they try to squeeze as many tasks as they can in less hours so they don't hire more people because you know what, the people are the top, they are still capitalists. Also a nice story, at the florist downstairs, they allowed this homeless guy to help them, and ended up hiring him full time. Not homeless anymore and sweet as pie. You know French people should complain less and enjoy their system more. Not paying for medical care and at least 5 weeks of vacation, 7 in most cases, 35hours of work per week, coming from the US, i can really see the perks. But f*ck they can be a pain!
    Can I come to the roof party with you guys, bringing French wine and good veggies :-)

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    1. Ah, yes, the roof party. We don't have the NYC roof situation here, but some people have shared roof terraces, so it can be done. If you bring the wine and the veggies I'll find a roof. One way or the other. :D

      The florist story is so cool! We could stand to learn a lot from the French here. You don't take as much crap as we do, the workers unite and go on the barricades more often than here. And you don't accept crappy food, so you get the good stuff at affordable prices. Everyone eats well. That means a lot. Ah, I could go once a week and just stuff a suitcase with food! Haha.

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    2. Carole: I'm not the kind of person who turns down any kind of French wine or food, please bring all you can carry, merci beaucoup! I would seriously love to do a food tour of Spain, France and Italy, and just travel with the idea of eating as much as possible :)

      Thankfully we can get quite good food in Portland, but it is usually considerably more expensive than the normal supermarket food. I wish we had a daily farmers' market somewhere in town - we have many small ones all over town, but they are only one day per week, so you can't really do all of your shopping there, and they don't operate at all during the winter and early spring (though they obviously still have some things like onions and potatoes and meat, of course, during the winter) - because things tend to be cheaper when buying directly from the farmers than when you have to go to a 'specialty' grocery store (that 'specialty' means $$$).

      My wife and I probably spend more money on food than on anything else besides our rent, but that's ok with me, because it's really important. Still, if we could get good food for a little bit less money, I wouldn't complain :) Part of the issue in the U.S., is that the government gives loads of money to the huge farms in Texas that are mass-producing crap and doing all sorts of insane things to it to make it last longer or to "sanitize" it after their inedible production practices are finished. It makes me gag, thinking of the things that most Americans eat every day. Then, because of that government money, that crap food can be produced SO cheaply, that there is a huge price difference at the grocery store between that and the local, good food, so of course, people tend to buy it instead.

      A lot of times, I feel like the U.S. government does everything it possibly can to make the lives of its citizens worse.

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  7. I've recently started a 4 day working week, and I tell ya: it is going to be TOUGH if I one day have to return to a normal 5 day working week (shivers!). If I do, I better find something I REALLY enjoy doing...

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    1. There is nothing more addictive than freedom. Once you get a taste of it (like being selvemployed, doing what you love), it is almost impossible to spend your time on something not meaningful/interesting. It is so cool that you have an extra day off to live. :-)

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  8. Hi Sandra... I've missed nice demonstration:-) But I'm maybe a little bit more radical (getting older, having kids - having more respect to the miracle of life) I'd say Don't work - LIVE! I'm not against work generally, I just think, that our work should be meaningfull and become to be a part of living.
    Most of the jobs in our society are waste of peoples potential and make our lives more complicated, frustrated and empty... We should stop with this and start to do something, what makes sence:-)
    PS: Your photos from Paris are wonderfull... I was in Spain in the same time, southern air is still around me:-)

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    1. Hi Zita, I am convinced that everyone have something they are good at, and are meant to do, but most people don't do it. They are stuck in jobs they don't like, dreaming of what they could do instead. Stuck in a system that someone else designed. It does feel good to have a purpose, without that we go crazy, so I am not against making a living. But it is not about working yourself into the ground, hating your job, and getting home too tired to live. In my humble opinion.

      Also I think society could stand to slow down, and include those who live at a different pace. Efficiency and profit should not be the masters, it is not doing us any good. Maybe we just need to cut down on wanting more, and take our payment in freedom instead. It is the highest currency, as far as I am concerned.

      Paris not hot or sunny (like Spain, I imagine), but it was fantastic, and beautiful and inspiring as always.

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    2. I absolutely agree. It's essential to have purpose, therefore I think, that having a job which is useless (I worked few months in states administration THAT WAS HELL only papers for papers for someone who will create new papers...) is damaging peoples life.
      Everyone has a choice. Do, what other people tell you to do, or do, what you are convinced is worth doing (don't take it literally, of course that there is ethical, cultural and legal context). I don't believe in compromise so I don't think that working less in meanigless job is a solution for people who are not satisfied with their lifes.
      It can happen very often, that you will earn less money and I agree, that payment in freedom (or generally happier life) is much better than money. On the other hand, when you do, what you love, you don't feel that need to work less (I suppose;-))
      Than there is of course problem of producing more and more and consuming more and more... That's complicated:-) The whole system definitely needs rethink and re-creation...

      We also had some rainy and cold days in Spain, but the inspiration is what counts:-)

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    3. For years I actually worked way too much, but I was my own boss, so I was happy working through the night and weekends. It became too much, in the end, but it was never unbearable because I loved my work.

      Another thing is that I am only really good at something that interests me. Doing something that my heart is not in, kills me. I remember talking to my accountant once, and he was stressed out on my behalf, for constantly having to come up with new ideas, in my line of business, and I felt so sorry for him to have to sit with boring numbers and paperwork all day. But he loved his work as much as I loved mine. We just have to make sure the jobs are distributed right. And that we don't have to work so much that we miss life itself, in order to keep afloat. :-)

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  9. How on earth did I miss this one? ;)
    I also think that the occupy movement is coming from the right place- maybe the message was a bit garbled at times but from the right place none-the-less.
    I have 3 small children at home. My first was born in Denmark and my other 2 here in Canada. Perhaps it was just where I was working but I found that family life was much more cherished in Denmark. Here- I am made to feel guilty when I leave at 4pm but I don't think that it is fair to leave them in daycare with super long hours. I want them to remember the time that we spend together as a family and not just who they had as a pedagogue! I want to relax with them (hygge at home) and not just be a flash of having dinner, bathtime and bed!
    You know, just because people work long hours, I honestly don't think that they are more productive. There has to be a balance. We are much fresher then and better able to focus on our work. I know people who boast of putting in super long hours at work but, when you actually pay attention to them, they are constantly walking around, talking to others, on breaks and just generally unfocused. We have to learn to enjoy ourselves. Why does that concept seem to get so much resistance?

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    1. On the subject of having people work longer hours here, someone said that it was better for the employer. But I am with you on this one: the quality of work is compromised when people are worn out and miss out on having a life. It is sort of like wetting your pants, you may make a quick profit short-term, but you'll end up having a lot of unhappy people working for you, and it will cost you in the long run (we already see a heavy spike in breakdowns and stress-sick-leaves).

      It is absolute BS to calculate these things on paper, and not take into account the quality of people's lives. Typical number crushing/political mistake. I have zero confidence that the answer will come from that direction. The majority of our politicians are clueless.

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  10. AnonymousJuly 27, 2012

    Hej Sandra!

    Came to your blog from CPH Post's website and wanted to say "great job" and in case I will ever live in CPH, thanks in advance for effectively doing something against environmental pollution. I think that a clean environment is really crucial to good living conditions and it is really refreshing to read that there are people who just act and don't call for anybody else to do the job!

    Now, of course I browsed your blog a little and read this article about May 1, and how you said you were behind the idea of abandoning capitalism. Well, personally, I think that would be a really bad idea for almost everybody in society, for the weakest/poorest as for the richest but since it is hard to define capitalism to begin with, I don't want to start an argument about that.

    You also say that you don't get the concept of cutting away public holidays and thus make people work even more whereas thousands of people in Denmark are unemployed. And that instead people should work less, if anything. I want to try to explain the reasoning behind this idea (being promoted by a left government, after all):

    It is the following. You can see "work" as a regular good, just as butter or tea or chocolate chips. People (employers) like to buy and use/consume it. However, it comes at a certain price since hardly anyone wants (or can allow himself) to work for free. So, what rations the demand for work (= supply of jobs) is the price of work just as the price of chocolate chips makes you think twice before you buy them when you are short on money at the end of a month or so.

    Now, what the Danish government would achieve by cutting down on two public holidays would be that people work 2 days more a year for the SAME PAY. And that is crucial. If the employees' salary stays the same, every single hour of work that Danish people do suddenly costs (a tiny little bit) less. And as it costs less, the hope is that employers will demand more work at the reduced price (supply more jobs) bringing currently unemployed people back into work!

    The question that probably arises here is whether this really really little amount the price of work per hour would drop would actually have a measurable effect on employment. But indeed it has. You can show empirically that even very small hikes or falls of the price of any product leads to decreased/increased demand. So, what the Danish government wants to do actually makes sense if you consider fighting unemployment an aim worthy to sacrifice two public holidays for.

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    1. So if I understand it right, it comes down to: make people work more for (the same=) less, presumably making it attractive to employ more. Oh, boy. I don’t know if I even have the energy right now to get into how much I disagree. The reason that the salaries are so inflated in Denmark, is because so much of it is eaten by taxes. And, I definitely think that our taxes could be spent in wiser ways. The fix is not to make people work harder for less, I am sorry. That is a theory that in my opinion only works on paper.

      If we build our future on the idea that we need to consume our way out of this mess, we are setting ourselves up for failure. It is not about doing everything bigger, faster and more, but rather about acting smarter. We must adapt to the way the world is changing, and it takes visionaries to lead the way. Unfortunately, they are not to be found among our leaders.

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    2. The US also had the idea to start making people work more for less, and we now work more hours than the Japanese. We are the only industrialized country without mandatory vacation time, maternity leave, etc, and yet our standard of living has barely risen at all since the 1950's. If you take away the top 10% of earners, our standard of living falls below Slovenia. We have high unemployment and growing poverty, and people's taxes are spent largely to subsidize bad food production, oil, banks, Military and automobile companies. This means that the majority of people see very little benefit from their tax money, and the Tea Party is trying (successfully) to reduce those useful social programs even further.


      Believe me, the cycle of work more for less is not in the best interest of the citizens.

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    3. Well said, Dave! Thank you for putting it into words.

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    4. AnonymousJuly 29, 2012

      Well, first of all, all I did was trying to explain the reasoning behind the government's proposal to cut down on public holidays. Since Denmark is currently run by a center-left government, it is quite hard to believe that it consciously acts against the working population's interest, but I did not even want to take any position on that issue. Personally, I enjoy holidays very much and it seems to me that the Danish economy is competitive enough.

      However, @Dave, the situation in the US is so much different in so many ways from what you can find in Europe, I wouldn't even want to compare it. Also, I seriously doubt that the US standard of living is anywhere near Slovenia's, maybe you should go there and take a look yourself. But that is not the point.

      I think an individual measure such as the one proposed here (cutting away 2 holidays) should be judged by its overall effect on the Danish economy. On the one hand, people lose two days off which is bad. On the other hand, work gets a little bit cheaper which WILL stimulate demand for work (the question is how much). Since you probably all share my view that unemployment is a bad thing, you should also see the upside to this policy.

      @Sandra
      Yes, the idea is really that simple. Make people work more for the same pay = work gets cheaper = more work is demanded. Again, I don't say I agree with this measure nor do I say there weren't other possibilities to make work cheaper in Denmark without burdening employees (e.g. less taxes). I just wanted to illustrate why the government is thinking of it. And yes, probably Denmark could cut down on taxes a little bit and spend the rest of it more wisely / efficiently. I dont know the Danish welfare state well enough to comment on this. And what with visionary politicians, from over here (Germany) it seems that yours are so much better than ours. But maybe that is just due to the "grass is always greener on the other side"-effect.

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    5. Hi Anonymous,

      I do appreciate you taking the time to explain the reasoning of the plan to me. It is just that I don’t believe it will have the desired effect. This kind of calculating all goes on at an abstract level, completely out of touch with real life. Number crunchers at their best (=worst). The plan operates under the assumption that we are machines/sources of income, and not human beings.

      I agree that we need to find ways to make it attractive to run a business in Denmark, outsourcing (among other things) is killing us. Especially smaller to medium businesses and startups should be nursed. Make it attractive to open/run a business, facilitate the moves, minimize the endless hoops they have to go through as it is now, and give them a little air to breathe. Instead of looking at these businesses as cash cows, let them recycle a part of the income, and reinvest it in their business.

      I will give you an example: my local vegetable dealer has seen so many restrictions and extra BS in the last ten years that his workload has increased drastically, and his profit suffers. Among other things, every single item in the store must be labelled in Danish. We all understand English, and read Swedish/Norwegian (similar in writing to Danish), but the rule could put him out of business if he doesn’t follow it to the letter.

      Another example: the city of Copenhagen pays people to walk the streets with measure tapes. If you as a store owner hammer a nail in your storefront, you are taking up city air, and are invoiced by the square meter (one meter minimum). If you have a potted plant outside that is fine, but only if the pot itself is broken or proves impossible to sell. Otherwise you are charged by the square meter. It is all about making money, but all they do is suffocate the local business life.

      If you continue to break the spirit of smaller businesses, you are depriving them of the energy and desire to employ others, or even stay in business. Intelligent legislation is what we need. Not this uninventive “quick-fix”, cooked up by an out-of-touch number cruncher.

      Obviously the grass is not as juicy here at it would appear, looking at it from the other side. :-)

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  11. thanks for sharing.

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