“We should go on strike,” Bill said in the lunchroom.
“Sush!” I say under my breath. We were on our dinner break, the third meal break of the day. Only five more hours and we’d get to go home to see our families for just a few hours before returning.
“Oh come on, George, you know these working hours are unfair,” he said.
“Yeah, but there are plenty of people out of work that the management could replace us with,” I said.
“I’m tired,” Bill said.
“You can’t be tired,” I said. “No one is tired.”
It had been ten years since the ‘great experiment’ that took away the need for sleep. No one sleeps. Ever. The scientists who figured out how to keep the human race from needing to sleep envisioned a world full of free time to be used to pursue those dreams that we all have screaming inside of us.
When SleepNoMore was released into the atmosphere, I excitedly thought of painting in the wee hours of the night. I started to plan what I would paint. One painting was going to just be galaxies on canvas. Another was going to be a giant watercolor of butterflies. It didn’t take long for the work hours to creep up, though. Now that we didn’t need sleep, we didn’t need to be at home as long.
“I’m tired of doing nothing but work,” Bill said.
“You could be one of the unlucky ones,” I said.
Half of the human race was unemployed. Once the restrictions on how many hours a person could work were lifted, one person could do the work of three. The two that worker replaced didn’t magically get new jobs. New work wasn’t being created fast enough.
“How unlucky are they, really? They don’t have to work twenty-one hours a day,” Bill said.
“Have you seen the projects?” I asked.
“Well, yeah, but that’s why we need to strike. I need another person doing my job so I can have some down time. And there are tons of people who need out of the projects,” Bill said. “Heh, remember the old times, George? Who would have ever thought lawyers and accountants would live in the projects, eh?”
I looked at the clock. It was nearing seven. “Break time is almost over,” I said. “Finish your meatloaf, I want to grab a smoke before going back to work.”
“I’ll meet you out there,” Bill said.
I stood out in the parking lot in the cold night and lit up. Was Bill right? Could we really go back to having free time? Kids were growing up who didn’t know anything other than a twenty-one hour work week. All they knew was the cutthroat job market and an intense fear of unemployment. They’d do anything for a job. And we let it happen. We just sat by and watched while we slowly turned into something very close to slaves.
By the time Bill came outside, I’d finished my cigarette. “What took you so long?” I asked.
Bill didn’t respond. He was wearing his gray overcoat and black gloves. I looked down at his glove. There was a pink piece of paper in it.
“Oh Bill,” I said in a quiet tone.
“What’s Nancy going to say?” asked Bill. “She doesn’t have a job. We don’t have that much saved up. We’re gonna be in the projects for sure.”
“You’ll find something,” I said. “I just know you will.”
“Damnit,” said BIll. “They can’t treat us like this.”
I didn’t hear from Bill again, despite trying to get hold of him. Three months after he was let go, riots started in the projects. They had one demand. Lower the number of work hours so we can all work.
I’m going to an open artist’s salon tonight after work. I have three works to show and so many new friends. Bill was right. Part of me wants to believe that he caused the change, but he’s just one man of many.