Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The difference a labor culture can make...

In the news this morning I'm reading that Greek high school (secondary education) teachers (as a side comment, for obscure reasons I never understood they always called themselves 'professors', a job title reserved for higher education lecturers in the rest of the world; humble Greeks, you see...) are thinking of sabotaging the country-wide exams in the coming weeks (a sort of Greek version of the French baccalaureate). Reason was the Ministry's decision, among other austerity measures, to increase their weekly labor requirement by 2 whole hours, that is 120 entire minutes, or 7200 secs! 

Most of us in the Western world who have gone down to 36 hours a week from 40, when I started my career, would sympathise with the teachers. But then again, I always worked north of 12 hours a day and a few more during the weekend, which brings my average closer to 60 than the 'legal' 40. The 40 h/w was merely theoretical. In June 1997 I found myself in the middle of a serious company takeover and subsequent management planning process for merging two software companies and plan the transition. For the entire month of June we all worked 18 hour days, in Dallas Texas, at the offices inside the well known area of Crescent Court. We stayed at the luxurious hotel right opposite the offices to which our company spent a fortune for a 5 to 6 hour sleep tops, if not less. They used to feed us four meals a day during these 18 hours (they kept three shifts of cooks for this reason), and in between snacks to provide us energy and keep us going. In the US meal services are always in abundance; they are only quite strict on alcohol usage (we had some wine from time to time), for the rest we could have whatever our heart desired. I picked up a few pounds easily after a month like that. When we finished each night at 1 or 2 am (there were reprimands if anyone quit his/her desk before then) there was nothing left in the hotel bar and the barmen already had closed their shift. We sat at the hotel lobby telling jokes about the day, and having fun and plundering our room minibars in collective nightcap parties (where did we find the energy?). I was then literally and culturally shocked to realise that US was what it was primarily because of the hard labor of its people, and second, I could also surprisingly adopt the same labor rhythm and daily load in my working life. I lived like this for 30 days, the entire month of June, working for 30*18 = 540 hours, if not more... If you think I am pulling your leg, I can produce in a heartbeat more than two dozen witnesses to confirm that in their word of honour or before the courts! I swear.

So, Greek teachers are complaining about their workload. I asked a friend what she thought the teachers' weekly workload was. I knew from myself, that at least in this country, as a part time lecturer at the University of Antwerp, they have doubled the total hours of my lecturing and maintained the same pay percentage. It happened gradually, and Belgium is far better than Greece in terms of current economic crisis, certainly Flanders, wherein I live. So, I was anxious to find out about the Greek teachers' weekly workload. What are we talking about? 40 hours? 45? What? I knew Greek teachers have time off (big time) during several months in the summer, and also four more weeks during Xmas and Easter. Nevertheless, they got such a hard work to perform, poor buggers. So, their weekly workload is a very serious business. Nobody touches this, to add just like that another two whole hours! God forbid. What the heck?! Are you fokkin' mad? 

Are you still waiting to find out how many hours these dudes work a week? Simply curious? I'm gonna tell ya! No worries... Brace for the worst, kids! Well, I heard, and I repeat, I heard this from a reliable source, a Greek teacher's workload for the week is 17 entire hours of 60 minutes each! Yes sir! 17 hours! This is less of what I was doing in a day during that fabulous June 1997! So, in that month I had worked more hours than Greek High School 'Professors' are doing in a year! And they now threaten to throw more oil in the Greek clusterf*ck austerity bonfire by protesting against their Ministry's additional requirement. 

Chance had it that I watched a recorded TV show yesterday, aired in the Dutch TV a few weeks ago, about a kid travelling and interviewing people in the Silicon Valley. He reported about startups and their employees' lifestyle, and also their rate of success. In that program he spoke of Whatsup, Instagram, Pebble watch, and a few others. What I was mostly impressed by were two things: That only 5% of those ventures succeed and become world news. And second, these people work like their life depended on that. The reporter showed us an interview with one of these people, a founder and CEO of his company, who during the final days before the launch of an app, he worked for 22 hours a day! He only slept two, and he called that entire app launching period his 'Death March'! He slept under his desk, his fingers had grown cysts with liquid by the millions of his keyboard taps; he was writing notes to read when he woke up to know where he was, as his brain, after just 2 hours sleep 'lost access capability to his memory', he said, for him to recognise his whereabouts, and more goodies like that. Work until death do us part, sort of thing.

The moral of the story. Not many things come to you by a strike of sheer luck. You can look for really lucky ones as for needles in a stack of hay. Hard labor is the only way. Manual, mental, combination of the two. What modern Greeks were taught by their PASOK leaders during the last 40 years was how to steal from everywhere around, lead a life of luxury on credit or stolen goods, and with as little work as possible. And if anybody tries to merely 'stroke' those privileges, then jump behind leftist parties with loads of K's in their acronyms, and claim your rights with unseen passion. Protest and burn down the house. In days like these, I like Frau Merkel, a lot! A whole lot!

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