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Fundación Santillana Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes

Articles > The Burden of Work

The Burden of Work

Vicente Verdú

It could be said that the scarcity of work provoked by the crisis that cornered Western economic and financial systems at the end of the 21st century would make it difficult to complain about work. Or, in the words of Vicente Verdú, speaking badly of work would be a mortal sin. Yet the working life of the average worker implies a number of disappointments and discouraging events that do not encourage belief in a better future. The system of incentives and breaks seems to alleviate the situation and temporarily improve the worker's outlook. But year after year, after going through a complete cycle, no remedy for working ailment has been produced, and an increasing number of people have arrived to the belief that their torture was not designed by God or fate or punishment. Not God, nor Fate, nor Guilt. The only goal of social policy should be to procure well-being and happiness for its members. This is far from being the case: it will be said that torment has been put into place; it has been put in order and regulated, much to the daily dismay of practically all its inhabitants.

Suddenly, speaking badly of work, the amount of stress, anxiety and all kind of ailments it causes, has become a mortal sin. Because, who should not consider themselves a privileged worker when the threat of unemployment lies in wait and threatens us from all around?

And, nonetheless, a huge percentage of the population adds the burden of enduring the serious chronic malaise that they face every day at work to the effort required to carry out their daily tasks. Can we expect to achieve production, productivity, creativity, ethics, civilization or satisfaction from this unjust platform? More likely the fruit of this dysfunctional situational womb will only be defective and contribute to worsening, and not improving, the coming age.

Week after week, year after year, the average worker endures a sequence of disappointments and disheartenments that soon allow them to make out a future burdened with an ever-increasing load that blocks out even the belief in better prospects. Holidays, Christmas, sales, summer, they all seem to attenuate the situation and improve the backdrop provisionally. However, year after year, after completing the cycle, we see that the remedy for our working malaise has not arrived. We work as if we were carrying out a punishment in a time when nobody would admit to deserving it. The old notion of work as penance corresponded with the concept of the world as a valley of tears, but once we have discarded our faith in such scenes of sorrow, how can we live with the fact that this unhappy working existence must be accepted without complaint?

The failure of the social utopias ruined 20th century political ideologies, fostered skepticism regarding their programs and discredited political leaders. Hope that the system can be transformed seems to have been buried for years; the lyrics another world is possible are relegated to children's songs, and hardly anyone is willing to come together to change the system. As for governments and their leaders, they are so absorbed in the arduous task of conquering or staying in power that they only see people as a blurry landscape of voters, vague human crowds that vote or get irritated, but only for a while. Demonstrations are held, strikes are called, and afterwards, the protest is ensconced in the home. Workers return to their houses and at dawn they once again go through the motions of clocking in and enduring.

In this picture, no one is purely good or evil; there are only managers and subordinates, businesspeople, employees, freelancers and civil servants. All affected by the same malaise that tends to sicken them and, with or without medical leave, they carry around a grayish pain day after day that, sooner or later, ends up burning them out.

Mortgages, debts, children, imperfect partners, discouragement, fines, injustice, impotence. The masses are in a seriously bad state and they have reached a point when they cease to consider this torment God's design, a misfortune of destiny or a deserved penance, which is decisive. Neither God, nor Destiny, nor Blame.

Educated, informed, experienced consumers, skeptical, unfaithful, individualistic, critical, people are abandoning the assumption that things must necessarily and inevitably be this way. They see that their own malaise and that of others are the consequence of an unfair world order and, just as in the past a vast majority of the population suffered within the system, this system will not withstand their intelligent revolt. A movement like those that occurred a hundred years ago won't happen now, but the critical spirit is growing in a wide cross-section of the population and subversion, even if it is indifferent to ideology, feeds its corrosive power against oppression. The oppression of urban life and its heart attacks, the oppression of the budget and its terror, the oppression of home and its poisons, the great oppression of employment and its miserable, undignified, killjoy conditions that take the pleasure out of life. A great part of our difficulty in living happily comes from the hatred we feel for our jobs. Only a few, an extremely small percentage of the population, enjoy their work.

Having abolished slavery, workers were given new rights, social security was generalized, but the problem still remains the same. Work is still producing malaise; some even feel it is martyrdom or regular cruelty, and in the vast majority of cases it causes harm, pain and emotional resilience.

In almost all instances, working on our work is so hard to reconcile with our wishes and desires that, when seen objectively, is completely at odds with our own existence. Can we continue to accept a life of suffering at work as a primordial, unavoidable and fatal sentence?

Working life means a sort of anti-life in so many cases that the organization as a whole, the concept or meaning of progress has lost all its value and significance. Neither the expansion of leisure time, which is currently being called into question, nor the increase in the intensity of entertainment, of paid holidays and bonuses, has helped temper the problem.

This month when the majority of the population returns from holidays to once again take up their daily occupations, the cruelty of the tasks they perform becomes so clear that the idea of social production itself breaks down. Because, how can we tolerate and preserve this kind of antihuman productive organization? The only purpose of society should be to seek out the wellbeing and happiness of its members, but what damned society is this that has based itself on an organized, regulated world of torment for the daily misfortune of nearly all its inhabitants?

El Boomerang, September 02, 2008

Translated by Susana Torres

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