By Haris Farmakis / ergolekta.wordpress.com
Last summer, the Church of Greece voiced its opposition to the Greek Government’s decision to abolish the Sunday holiday by allowing retail shops in non-touristic areas to remain open. In particular, the Church of Greece pointed out that Sunday is a day devoted to God and should remain a holiday so that Christians have the chance, not only to worship their God, but also to rest from the past week’s labour and to schedule their activities for the following one.
I do not believe in any god and I am not close to the church. However, on the issue of the Sunday holiday, I believe that the church’s initial reaction, although it was not forcerful and sustained enough, was the most poignant and should comprise the nucleus of the wider resistance to this outrageous measure.
Retail shop business people have reacted to the measure, as they maintain that generalizing and widening further competition (its time limits this time), will bring in an even more difficult position the majority of small commercial businesses, which are based on family work and have limited financial or commercial advantages against larger retailers, while, at the same time, they do not possess the necessary margins in order to face, at a time of unprecedented economic crisis, the increased demands that the opening of their shops on Sundays will bring. This is why they have put the following caption on a poster they circulated around Athens: ‘They are forcing us to open on Sundays just in order to throw us in prison.’
On the other side, the retail workers’ unions have reacted by pointing out that, with the measure’s application, employees in retail shops will stop having fixed days of rest, days that they can devote to their families, friends and personal interests, and will easily succumb to the wishes or needs of their employers for increased working hours at constant pay. With unemployment at unprecedented levels, workers will have no other choice but to contribute, potentially at least, the whole of their personal time to their professional occupation, if only to have any hope of retaining it.
Both of the cited reasons are well grounded and in my view justify the reaction of these professional groups against the brutal assault they are being subjected to by the application of a program of violent economic and social adjustment.
But I think that the just claims of merchants and employees are served better when embedded in the deeper and wider platform set by the central objection expressed (mainly) by the Church of Greece. This is because the Church’s thesis does not focus only on particular social or professional groups, neither does it concern just the economic or working sphere of our lives; it concerns our lives’ very heart, as it emphasizes the deep need that we have as human beings for pause, rest, recollection, moral, existential and metaphysical contemplation.
And if you do not like this serious stuff, think of the universal appeal of the classic Greek song’s ‘The Street’:
‘…on Sundays we gathered early in the coffee shops…’
I believe thus that we should all react and demand that Sunday returns as a constant holiday and that it be respected as much as possible for all working people, irrespectively of their profession, as the day in which they will be free to rest and recollect, to unite with their families and friends, to program their time on their own. For our worn-out cities, Sunday should be respected as the only day of the week in which the tempo slows down, the noise, traffic and pollution are, at least to an extent, limited.
All this is of course completely indifferent to our career-oriented Minister of Development, and the creditors’ employees who command him. For them, the only legitimate desideratum is that all aspects of Grece’s spacetime and of the lives of its inhabitants, are commodified and exploited.
The Minister, in accordance with the cheap economistic mentality that now rules, has invoked ‘studies’ (appropriate ‘studies’ are always handy to support the arguments of politicians – of course no one notices if in the end they are refuted by experience), which are supposed to show that the widening of the shops’ opening hours is another step towards establishing Greece as a privileged field of the ideal capitalist-type development that the defenders of Troika and its governments preach.
However, to the opportunistic arguments of the Minister, Greek society should in unison juxtapose its long standing noble traditions, which realize a faith in the preservation of a core of dignity in social and personal life, a core that is not subject to economic exploitation and is not influenced by the enticement of supposed economic growth (that always awaits us a couple of economic quarters later and after the forthcoming ‘structural reforms’).
Believers as well as non-believers, leftists and conservatives, we should retort, in one voice, that Sunday must remain a holiday, day exclusively devoted to faith. For believers this may be their religious faith; for the rest, it may be faith in society and the environment, that is, in our own selves, our partners, our children, our neighbors, the space in which we are living.