I just had 5 continuous weeks of time off from work. That might seem like an exceptionally long summer vacation to some, but it is actually quite common in Sweden. In fact, not just in Sweden, but most of the Nordic countries.
You see, in Sweden people are entitled to at least 25 vacation days every year, with most tech companies offering 30. Moreover most workers are guaranteed the right to take at least 4 continuous weeks of vacation during the months of July or August (this is Sweden after all and that’s the one time of the year you are most likely to enjoy good weather 🙂). This may seem like a very nice deal, and it really is. But if we take a look at a lot of the rest of the world we can see that this sort of thing isn’t super common, so we end up asking: Why? The short answer is unions.
People wanted to enjoy the nice summer weather, so in the early 20th century labor unions negotiated so that factories would shut down for around a month in July. This was useful for all, since just one factory or mine could really hit the supply chain, where one factory would not have enough raw materials because the mines were closed or a mine might not have where to ship the materials because a factory was closed.
So here we are, a century later, enjoying the perks of plenty vacation time and a good work-life balance because of strong unions a century ago. It’s really interesting that once these rights were won by the unions, they became so ingrained in the culture that they eventually became law.
At the time I’m writing this both the Writers Guild of America and the American actors’ union SAG-AFTRA are on strike. They are fighting for reasonable pay, the ability to make a living, and to not be replaced by AI. They are striking now because they won’t be able to do so later. Because due to the low residuals they get paid from streaming services, a large part of them are unable to get healthcare (don’t get me started about how crazy that is). I think this strike is essential not for the future of entertainment, but for the future of work in America. Because as we can see from countries like Sweden, once rights are won they tend to stick around. But if these companies get the sense that they can take all the profits for themselves… These people might not get another chance to fight for what they deserve, and people a century from now might not look back on this moment and enjoy the same hard-won benefits.