The Remains of the Day is one of the best films of 1993 and is now available on video. It tells the story of an English butler, played by Anthony Hopkins, who is the epitome of the dutiful servant. His subservience is such that he becomes alienated not only from any opinions, but from his own feelings. When his father dies, he shows no emotion. When a fellow servant develops romantic interests in him, he remains oblivious. It is a story of the dehumanizing power of servitude.
As Canadians in the 1990s, we look with disdain on stratified societies in which any large number of people are resigned to a life of household servitude. We see it as a sign of a corrupt society. We shouldn’t be too quick to point a finger, however, because Canadian society is in danger of moving in that very direction.
The last forty years have seen a dramatic rise in the number of two-income families. A generation ago the norm was for the man of the house to work while his wife stayed home and performed various household tasks, including child rearing. Today, women make up 45 per cent of the work force and the norm today is for both husband and wife to be working outside the home.
In the fifties, household chores were taken care of by family members. Preparing meals, doing laundry, cleaning the house were not things which families paid others to do. In today’s two-income family, both husband and wife have a full week’s work outside the house. They arrive home tired and unenergetic.
Service industry revolution
Consequently, the service industry has grown in leaps and bounds over the last thirty years. Restaurants, dry cleaners, day cares and home cleaning companies have all flourished as two-income families, in effect, hire others to do for them what families used to do for themselves. In Canada, in the 1980s, no less than 94 per cent of newly created jobs were service jobs.
What is largely ignored in this revolution is the status of all those people who are doing the cooking and cleaning. The very worst paying jobs in Canada are in the service sector. In 1991 Statistics Canada released a list of the worst paying jobs in Canada and it tells a story. The three worst paying jobs are: 1, Child care worker; 2. Food and beverage servers; 3. Housekeepers.
Workers in each of these groups, on average, earn less than $15,000 per year – a poverty wage and less than one-half of the average pay in Canada. We face the very real danger of becoming a polarized society in Canada consisting of two classes – the wealthy who have the resources to hire people to wait on them, and a second class consisting of those who do the waiting and who live in poverty.
What is the solution to this? A return to one-income families? In a technologically-advanced society this is not likely to happen. As more and more jobs require less physical power and more intellectual ability, the full participation of women in the Canadian workforce is inevitable.
The solution lies in what we regard as a normal work week. As long as a job involves being at work eight hours a day, five days a week, then two-income families will be compelled to patronize restaurants and day cares. The only feasible solution is a reduction in the normal work week. Some fifty years later, families have shrunk in size and our technology has made us more efficient, yet the typical family is supported by two people working a thirty-five hour week each. After forty years of technological advances, the average family is spending seventy-five per cent more time at work!
The problem is who will address this issue. Political forces on the right are not interested. Controlled by corporate interests, they are not about to dispute a system which has effectively increased the number of hours the average family spends at work.
On the left, political forces are largely held captive by the women’s movement. They are not prepared to acknowledge that the increased participation of women in the work force has created fundamental problems.
It remains to the politically unaligned, especially pro-family people, to address this issue which affects so many. If it is ignored, we will evolve into a stratified society and will suffer all the problems which beset any country that allows large numbers of people to be treated unjustly.