I’m Working Even If I Don’t Know It

When we define work we limit our understanding of the benefits of activity, such as volunteering and caring for others.

I work hard every day but now that I’m Movin’ On to what folks call retirement, my paycheque is non-existent. I claim I work hard, partly because I don’t let others define work for me. It’s my little kick at the system. Maybe I should say, I’m a Worker every day.

May 1 every year is May Day. It is celebrated in over 60 countries around the world. Some countries have transitioned the Worker focus to September of each year.

May Day is a May 1 celebration with a long and varied history. Throughout the years, there have been many different events and festivities worldwide, most with the express purpose of welcoming in a change of season (spring in the Northern Hemisphere). In the 19th century, May Day took on a new meaning, as an International Workers’ Day grew out of the 19th-century movement for labor rights and an eight-hour work day in the United States.

The connection between May Day and labour rights began in the United States. During the 19th century, at the height of the Industrial Revolution, thousands of men, women and children were dying every year from poor working conditions and long hours.

In an attempt to end these inhumane conditions, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (which would later become the American Federation of Labor, or AFL) held a convention in Chicago in 1884. The FOTLU proclaimed “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1, 1886.”

When I help out neighbours by shovelling their walk, volunteer at a casino for a local charity or do housework, my effort doesn’t show up in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Canada. It is invisible and unnoticed. GDP records monetary transaction not the transaction of a gained benefit.

As the nature of work evolves for the younger generation, we need to be sure we are measuring the right things. A simple example, a young person may develop a website to help coordinate a neighbourhood to be safer. That has a benefit. When we only focus on getting the GDP to rise at least 2% each year, we lose the focus on many things that could be supported that have great benefits. Tax incentives, subsidies and research rarely go towards unpaid work.

As older adults and seniors we have an opportunity to not only see the world through the rear-view mirror, we are able to look to the future – through the windshield if you want to keep the analogy going. We can be supportive of those creating benefits for others at too low a pay, or for no pay at all.

When folks are between paid employment they might be adding benefit to others in many ways. Offer support and encouragement as your children and grandchildren will need it as the world is forced to redefine itself in many ways.

The folks at History.com assisted with background information.

My thanks to St. Albert Seniors Association: 780-459-0433 for making this Blog possible.

Glenn Walmsley