Back in the bad old days of Victorian England being a factory worker wasn’t much fun. Not only were you expected to work long hours for little pay. You were also expected to adjust your lifestyle to meet the expectations of your boss – usually some humourless non-conformist Protestant. This could mean abstaining from alcohol, or attending Chapel every Sunday to hear about how you were going to hell.
Today’s tyrants, it seems, are less concerned with what you drink than with what you eat. The guardian reports on new guidleines being drawn up to limit – in a quite extreme way – what kind of food is available to public sector workers during their lunch break. According to the Guardian, public sector workers ‘face having to eat pies that are missing half the pastry’ so as to reduce their fat intake, and having to specifically request salt rather than having it placed conveniently on their tables. The logic, apparently, is that public bodies – and presumbaly their employees- should ‘set a good example on nutrition’.
The real issue here is not about food, or health or pastries. Its about a certain hard won right known as the lunch break. For most of the working day, the worker is expected to pursue the priorities of their employer. The lunch break represents an increasingly attenuated amount of free time, set aside in the middle of the day, in which workers are basically free to do as they please. Workers should not be expected to use their lunch break – or indeed their culinary choices – to ‘set an example’, or to promote the governments pet projects.
Such policies are perhaps even more pernicious than the gradual shortening of the lunch ‘hour’, since they attack the very idea of seperating worktime and freetime. They represent, in other words, a qualitative attack on the rights and lives of workers.
Interestingly – although perhaps not surprisingly - the journalist who wrote the Guardian article has sought the opinion of numerous foody pressure groups, but has not found time to ask any workers how they might feel about such absurd new policies.