Friday, May 29, 2009

Cyclists: You Have a Right to Vacation!

French fought for more vacation...and won a cycling movement!

About seventy-five years ago in France a movement emerged in reaction to the Great Depression, the object of which was the establishment of the 40 hour work week and 15 paid vacation days per year. I know this because I read every word that Jan Heine writes about cycling, cyclotouring, randonneuring, bicycles, and France. He has the complete story in the latest issue of Bicycle Quarterly. If you want more try Wikipedia; the interaction between opposition to the rise of Hitler and the role of sport and leisure is fascinating.

The movement, called the Popular Front, was also about generating general progress on the conditions and wages of workers and the masses of the unemployed. This meant that French laborers had more time to spend at leisure. They began to explore their country, and thus a new boom in cyclotouring was born. Today, we are very much the beneficiaries of this boom of interest in everything cycling. And we owe this in large part to the leftist parties and unions of France that formed the foundation of the Popular Front.

Americans: less time with family, friends…and cycling

Here in America, we’ve traveled a different path. Our real wages have failed to keep up with the cost of consumption, our health care costs have risen dramatically, and we work more and harder than ever. While the productivity of American workers has increased, we don’t seem to get any material or time benefit. I heard one expert refer to the extra month per year that the average American now works as the month of “Workuary”.

Opportunity Now in Congress

Fortunately for us a new American movement is on the rise, and a bill was just introduced by Congressman Alan Grayson (D-FL) last week that would ultimately guarantee two weeks of vacation for most American workers. The movement is spearheaded by my friend and fellow Seattleite, John de Graaf. John is Executive Director of Take Back Your Time, an organization dedicated to ending the U.S. and Canadian epidemic of overwork.

Who else supports the idea of more free time? Well, trade groups like travel agents understand what's at stake, and naturally support the notion. See Shouldn’t the bicycle, cyclotouring, and everything-associated-with-bicycling industries get on board too? It takes time to cycle, especially for slower cyclists like me! John, can you insert a slow-cyclist amendment so we doddlers get an extra week of vacation?

Remember what it means to just live

But it’s about more than cycling. For peace of mind, for just remembering what it means to live, we need more time. It could be you work for a company that is generous with time off, or are a union member so that you have won time off from a not-as-generous employer. Great. But for cycling to grow and be true to its pedestrian roots (yes, I get the irony of the pun), it can’t be for those of means and time only. Our mission, like the French of the 1930’s, ought to be to expand the right to time off from work to as many cyclists and would-be cyclists as possible.

The young in particular get little time off. Those who switch jobs, voluntarily or not, often start back at the beginning. If you have children, wouldn’t it be great if they had plenty of time to still hang with the folks as they enter the work world? Time off is family-friendly.

Vacation as Stimulus

Studies prove that workers who get time off are more productive. If more workers get vacation, employment will grow to cover the time lost to vacation. Health Care costs are reduced when workers get vacations, and of course burnout is reduced. Fundamentally, it is good for business.

Beginning, not the End

I don’t imagine we’ll win the legislation this summer given Health Care reform and other pressing issues, but I wouldn’t dismiss it either. Polling indicates 69% of Americans are supportive of paid time off with the largest portion supporting three weeks off (huh, just like those French cyclists won).

Let's take back our cycle!

Follow the link, email your congressmember, and talk it up with fellow cyclists. If you are in the bicycling industry, your letters of support mean a great deal. And for you bloggers, just think of the posts we could compose: even longer diatribes like this one. Oops. OK, we could find more pictures to post, yes, that's it!

Take time to stay curious!


1 comment:

  1. I could use some more time off! My last post took me hours to compose and I didn't even say that much. Just think how much I could say if I had an extra week away from work....I may even hop on my bike a little more often.

    I remember living with our French exchange student and her family one summer and both her parents had the whole summer off - they were postal workers and had the choice when to take their long vacations.