Selling Boxing Day: Humans As Units Of Production

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
30th March 2012

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Once again we have a government in NSW that is moving to undermine public holidays.

The State Government has announced its intention to change the rules concerning shopping on Boxing Day. Instead of tightening the rules to remove the exceptions for city shopping, they are relaxing the rules to allow any, or all, shops to open.

This is an appalling concession to the wealthy; the large shops, the retail chains, the shopping malls, the senior management, the shareholders and investors. But it is no protection to those who have to serve in shops or the transport workers, the security services, the cleaners, the warehouse workers, the truck drivers, the small lease holders in shopping malls, the myriad of ordinary people who make the retail system work. The CEOs and company directors will spend some of their enormous packages on extravagant holidays while their employees will not have time off to spend at home with their children. Even the hard working politicians will enjoy time off with their families on Boxing Day, but not the retail workers.

The arguments of the government: that nobody has to work, many will want the double pay, that the customers want to shop and a buoyant economy keeps retail jobs, are all so much smoke and mirrors.

It is nonsense to say that nobody has to work and that being a public holiday workers will be better off because of their double pay. The pressure to work will be enormous, both in terms of the carrot of double pay and the whip of “not really pulling your weight” – to say nothing of the shop owners in malls, or the workers on Christmas Day who have to work to set up for the sales. It is easy for wealthy people to choose not to work but for those who are only just able to hold on to a job, the choice is a figment of rich men’s self-serving imagination. Guess which applicant will get the job – the one who will not work on public holidays or the one who will? Guess what happens to casual workers who choose not to come in on that day?

Undoubtedly it will be popular amongst customers. We all like the convenience of being able to shop whenever we like. It suits our self-centred individualism. It is the nature of a consumer. And a public holiday devoted to sales – sounds a dream come true to the materialists. But it is not good for our society to feed our self-centred greed. Society is more than an aggregate of individuals held together by a common monetary unit. It is people living in a network of relationships; relationships that need maintenance and nourishment.

To argue that we need to open shops on a public holiday to retain jobs is to indicate how brittle our Triple A economy is. We must be in a dire state on the verge of economic collapse! One wonders how we ever survived those years when shops were closed every weekend of the year - from Saturday at noon till Monday morning. We must have been starving!

Boxing Day is not a day of religious observance. Few, if any, celebrate it as St Stephen’s Day. If it were not for good King Wenceslas, who would know that it is St Stephen’s Day? While it is great that some days, like Christmas and Easter, are set aside for us to celebrate our Lord’s birth, death and resurrection; New Testament Christianity is not into celebrating special religious days. For Christians every day belongs to the Lord and to be lived for him (Romans 14:5-7, Galatians 4:9-11, Colossians 2:16-17).

However, public holidays are part of Christianity. It is an expression of Christian concern for the wellbeing of society, especially the poor and disadvantaged members of society. Public holidays challenge the materialistic assumption that life is no more than wealth and possessions. It reminds us that we work to live not live to work.

So what are we living for? Reducing everything to the economic is to reduce life to work, humans to units of production, citizens to tax-payers, society to ‘working families’ and community to a corporation. Public holidays declare that everybody, especially the poor and disadvantaged, has a chance to enjoy the benefits of our labour. It is an occasion when we can all share with each other as nobody has to work. Insisting that one large sector of the community, i.e. retail workers and the allied industries, have to work, divides families and communities, reducing significantly the quality of life for everybody.

It is not a matter of self-interest. Church attendances are not going to decrease because shops are open on Boxing Day. Christmas offertories are not going to be affected by people saving their money for bargains.

It is not that Christians are opposed to trade or making money. Christians believe in work and wealth. In as much as we able, the production and distribution of goods and services is something we should all be engaged in. The material world is God’s good creation made for our benefit (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12, 1 Timothy 4:1-5, 6:17-19).

Boxing Day is part of the holiday season that gives families an unhurried time to catch up with each other. It is a crucial part of the community ‘quality time’ and because of this ‘quantity time’ we have time to travel and see each other. At end of the busy Christmas build up, not the least for the retail workers, it provides something of a decent break to enjoy life with family and friends.

This article is not a party political comment indicating my support for one party against another. I wrote a fuller and similar article in 2009 under the Labour government (http://phillipjensen.com/articles/shopping-on-public-holidays/). However, the sudden rush of this legislation through the parliament continues to feed public cynicism about the integrity of politicians’ promises or concern for the common good as opposed to self-serving sectional interests.