All of a sudden, much is being written on the ‘pursuit of happiness’, of 6 hour working days, of three and four days of work each week instead of the constancy of indenture and the trauma of wage slavery. Years ago, when I was the general manager of the Murdoch University Student Guild I went for all sorts of changes in workplace conditions only to be advised by the union, the NTEU (National Tertiary Education Union), to “slow down”, to “not give away too much too soon.” I did not slow down. I pushed through 17 changes to our Enterprise Bargaining Agreement. Happiness is everything, it is wellbeing and the dawn of all our meanings.

When I took on the management of this particular student guild, and the management of five of its commercial operations, it was a key concern – facing the risk of insolvency. I inherited six industrial disputes and a sinking ship. But we turned it all around. We became one of the nation’s strongest guilds – financially and politically. I was appalled at the low level of remuneration of many of my colleagues, most of them long-serving. Some were without tertiary qualifications and this was an argument used against them but I recognised equivalency of learning and skills acquired in the workplace over time. I did the position translations and increased everyone’s remuneration. My colleagues were stunned, the NTEU was stunned. We should not wait for the ‘right side of history’ to loom in order to do what it is right. My sense of urgency and in putting people first led to high-morale. I also reduced the 40 hour week to a 37.5 hour working week but remuneration remained equal to a 40 hour week. I was unsuccessful in pushing for a 35 hour week after failing to secure the original goal of 30 hours a week. The 6 hours a day was scoffed at by the NTEU and by the student guild board members.

Society needs to be about people and subsequently the people will deliver the ‘economy’ we should have, not one that some want for the majority. We must always remember that all ‘structures’ are people. We are always working with one another.

The pursuit of happiness’ is imperative and just like the 1968 Paris workers’ rights protests argued for shorter working weeks, for three and four working days in a week, for balanced lives, for the right to be happy and free, these rights to our natural freedoms should remain inalienable.

  • The philosophers Schopenhauer and Heidegger effectively argued that many people treat other people as if they are property, but people are not property and certainly never the property of other people. Arguably, people are the property of freedom.

If social justice and human rights are to continue unfolding then happiness, universal happiness has to be at the forefront. The shortest possible working weeks should be the deal. The assurance of work and financial security to everyone – equality – should be the reality of our generations. Life needs to be balanced to allow for what we were born into – the inherent – to be happy, free, to enjoy community, family and experiences other than work. In the contemporary maladies of this workplace driven world the above has been sidelined. We have been screwed over by unnatural imposts, where all our doings and expectations are maddeningly ‘work-related’ – and we compete with each other to achieve them; career, the climbing of the ladder, accolades. It is all theatre but one of unhappiness. A theatre of misery. We are taught about a world order that is dog-eat-dog, that we will make enemies in the workplace, that jealousy is a driver and that it can be ambition’s fuel.

Human beings have become the most miserable species on the planet.

Art is the only outlet that may run a counter-narrative, where the outburst of unhappiness in the work-mad world, one of servitude to drudgery is disconnecting us from happiness. The revolution that is needed is becoming less likely as institutional and structural power imbalances are relentlessly shored up.

Disaster capitalism exploits dictatorially humanity. It is so bent on profit for the few that it leaves behind even more humanity in even direr circumstance. Capitalism is the maker of abject poverty and billions live utterly dirt-poor.

In this disaster capitalism, some nations do better than others. Some nations try to balance work and freedoms, to factor in the right to some relief and the hope for some happiness. Norway has amassed $885bn (£727bn) to look after its ageing population rather than the elderly scrimp by in hovels in the last decades of life. In the face of the excesses that is capitalism this effort by Norway is noble. Norway nationalised some of its industries, and instead of an individual owning a resource company –and the bulk of the revenue – Norway does.

Australians are being asked to work more years in order to provide relief to an ailing economy. In this, the economy is not about the people. Australia does not own the resource companies that benefit from the oil and gas they drill, pump, barrel. A few individuals benefit from this obnoxious notoriety. Today a pension averages about $20,000 a year and it is tough going for pensioners. It is poverty. In twenty years the pension will be worth the equivalent of $70 a week comparatively in today’s value – dirt-poor lives. Unless Australians have a home paid off by the time they retire and have $1 million in superannuation they will do it poor. With the passing of each year less Australians will be on track to achieve this feat.

It is an indictment of Australia’s social policies that it does not have the sovereign wealth funds of nations such as Norway. If Australia refuses to nationalise industries and own its resources then there will come the time that Australia will be poor despite this today as seemingly unimaginable.

Australia needs to save for tomorrow. But not at the expense of people’s right to happiness and freedom. Australia’s only hope is to nationalise industries and resources and reduce work hours so that there is work for everyone. Let us spread the love and be that better society.