60-hour work week? We could learn from this.

I had to chuckle, and chuckle somewhat derisively at that, when I read the media responses to the purported abuses in China related to the 60-hour work week.

The hysteria they have created is more of a critique on the lack of ambition and a desire to improve one’s lot in our society than it is a reflection of the abuses in China.

The 3.4% unemployment in Hong Kong combined with an 8% annual economic growth rate is not the result of a 35-hour work week and two month summer vacations which, in Europe, has become de rigueur.

The media betrays their lack of understanding of the life of a Chinese factory employee.

1.  The workers are migrants.  Where they work is not remotely close to their homes.  More often than not they live a jostling, two day, non-stop train ride from their homes.

2. They live in stifling factory dormitories that are seldom air-conditioned, many of which are located in the tropical coastal south.

3.  I would approximate the average age of the factory worker to be in their early twenties.  They are strong, healthy, ambitious, and most of them are single.  If, given the choice of holing up in their dormitory room designed to accommodate 6, but instead houses 12, or opting for additional work, their choice is obvious.

4.  Many of the migrant workers come from the family farm where the work is done by hand.  The estimated hourly income from working on the farm is 25 cents.  Working in a factory, they are paid close to $2.00 an hour, an 800% increase.  The goal of many is to work and save for five years before retiring to the family farm, most of which are a half acre or less.

5.  The Chinese are not prone to complain.  Over the millenia they have learned to adapt.  They accept the cards they are dealt.  They share an overwhelming optimism that life will improve.

6.  There are factors at work that are corroding the underpinnings of their society, factors that will have devastating affects in generations to come, but the 60 hour work week in not one of them.

I think back to when I was in my late teens.  Dan Pullium and I worked in the sawmills of British Columbia.  We lived in trailers, slept in bunk beds, and ate our meals in the mess hall along with 50 snoose-dipping Swedes.  We were as happy as a pair of great blue herons standing all alone in a stagnant marsh surrounded with spring peepers when we were offered overtime.  We felt slighted if we didn’t get it.  Due to a shortage of help, on one occasion I worked on the graveyard shift from Wednesday evening  straight through to the graveyard shift on Saturday morning, stacking lumber off the green chain.  I didn’t consider it abuse then, and I don’t consider it abuse now.

I have many close friends who are farmers.  A 60-hour work week is a walk in the park for them.

Many of the shops in our community owned by Amish and Mennonites advertise in our local papers that their hours are 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.  They’re just getting started at 60 hours.

Many of us have been involved in starting and managing our own businesses.  A 60-hour work week was something we lived with for years.  It went with the territory.

Amy Chua, the Chinese author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, wrote candidly about the upbringing of her daughters.  She took a pounding from the press for her candor in pushing her children to excel.

There is conjecture that in less than 20 years the gross national economic output of China will exceed that of the United States.  Perhaps our vehement objection to the 60-hour work week is but one of the reasons we will continue to fall further, and further behind.  We’ve lost the willingness to word hard and make sacrifices.




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