Feb 6 2012: The Leisure Society: Twenty-Four Colour Landscape Format Images of a Young Couple’s Time Off (1970)

In the final selection from an unidentified young couple’s 1970 scrapbook (also seen here and here) there are a gathering of landscape format colour photographs on many of the same subjects as previous galleries: caravan and boating holidays, time relaxing outdoors with dogs and friends, visits to a variety of (mostly) unidentified attractions, and so on. In these are the beginnings of what I suppose we now know as ‘the leisure industry’, the many sites and services that enable people to enjoy their time off work, part of the wider tourism and heritage economy that comprises a large part of what drives the country’s ability to support its citizens and improve their standards of living. A recent billboard was doing the rounds, confronting the vast quantities of anti-union propaganda in circulation with a simple formula: Unions – the people who brought you the weekend.

It’s worth looking at these two things together, as they tell an important story about economics. This is that while in-work benefits (for example, pensions and paid holidays) are being run down for ever greater numbers of workers and hourly pay is being frozen or cut, as working hours are lengthened for those still in full time employment, all these things are presented as necessary to secure economic growth. Yet the reverse can also be argued: the winning of shorter hours, paid holidays, decent pensions and better hourly rates were precisely what conjured the new leisure economy in the first place. Far from driving the economy into debt and bankruptcy, as some would claim, such moves demonstrably achieve the opposite: reducing working hours increases employment; those employed have more time off and disposable income to spend on, say, caravan holidays, or visiting rural attractions…

Every cut in working hours since the beginnings of the unions in the nineteenth century has been opposed by employers and since 1979 these arguments have not only been heeded but extended to the erosion of many existing gains. The ‘leisure society’ projected from the exponential increases in productivity created by automation is genuine, but implemented with a twist: instead of everyone working less, mass and permanent unemployment has grown in parallel to the merging of ever more jobs into single roles. The benefits of increased productivity are co-opted by a relatively small number of people. In this observation might be a solution to current economic problems and the potential for greater quality of life. Many independent services and businesses would surely arise from a more effective spread of the benefits of automation among the larger workforce.

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