THIS MONTH'S THEME
Red and Green
FROM THIS MONTH'S EDITOR
The Mirch Masala restaurant in East Oxford is cheap, cheerful, and for some reason reminds me of eating out in Chiapas, southern Mexico. One evening a few of us from work were having a meal there just before the annual meeting of the NI Co-operative which decides how much we should pay ourselves. For the record, we have an equal-pay policy that gives each of us a living wage – something close to the ‘industrial average’.
Anyway, the conversation turned to the fact that more and more of us now work part-time. This has come about almost without our noticing, on a case-by-case basis, which means that the reasons behind it are pretty complicated. But there are some common threads. For one thing, most Co-operative members have children. Others among us just want to keep their work in some kind of proportion with the rest of life. Whatever the reasons, they always seem pretty sensible to me.
The trouble with part-time work, however, is that you also have to make an extremely complex set of calculations – hours, percentages with decimal points, pro-rata holiday entitlements, that sort of thing – which I find extremely difficult to follow. As the convivial talk in the Mirch Masala continued, and my confusion deepened, I finally said something to the effect that life might be a lot simpler for everyone if we moved to a four-day working week.
There was a baffled silence of the kind that frequently – I can’t think why – seems to follow ‘interventions’ of mine like this one. But soon we were discussing all sorts of things, like ‘how much is enough?’, feelings about work, repetitive strain injury, common sense, efficiency, survival, unemployment, burnout, the environment – in fact, a large chunk of the subject matter of this magazine. So I have been doing something quite unusual and editing a magazine about political theories that seem to have direct, practical implications for my daily working life.
I often wonder how much difference it truly makes that we are an independent, equal-pay co-operative. For sure, we never have to bow to the power of the advertiser, proprietor or financial backer – a rare enough privilege, but one accorded to us entirely by you, the people who subscribe to the magazine and give us our independence. Even so – and not being a charity – we have to make frequent pacts with ‘commercial reality’ to stay afloat in treacherous waters.
It’s not that I’d ever wish to live in a perfect world – after all, what would become of my ‘interventions’ then? It’s just that I know my life would be a lot better spent if, in place of all those stifling compromises, I had the freedom I long for to use such talents as I have in a green and compassionate land.
for the New Internationalist Co-operative
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