Thursday, February 27, 2020

strike three

The local political hotline is buzzing.

And, to northern eyes, it seems like an odd topic for so much angst.

Despite its reputation for being a land of fiestas, Mexico has only seven statutory holidays -- one of the fewest of any nation. They are: New Year's day, Constitution day, Benito Juarez's birthday, Labor day, Independence day, Revolution day, and Christmas day. There are other recognized holidays, but these are paid holidays. If the employer requires workers to work on any of those days, he must pay them triple wages.

Since 2006, three holidays have been held on a Monday, rather than the date of its historical occurrence. Constitution day is held on the first Monday in February, Benito Juarez's birthday on the third Monday in March, and Revolution day on the third Monday of November. Those days are known as bridges (puentes).

If AMLO, Mexico's current president, has his way, those three dates will return to the day on which they occurred. He will send a proposal to the Mexican Congress at the end of this school year setting out the details of the shift. One idea that has been floated is to add two weeks on to the current six-week school vacation in the summer.

The 2006 law should sound familiar to the residents of most countries. Re-purposing vacation days to create a long weekend has been common for decades.

The stated reason for three-day weekends is to give workers a bonus opportunity to spend more time with their families. And Mexican families put those days to good use -- if our little villages by the sea are any measure.

I need to add a personal confession here. When The States morphed Washington's birthday (re-named as that nomad-apostrophe President day), Memorial day, Veterans day, and Columbus day, I reacted in opposition. Oddly, AMLO's justification for re-creating Mexico's holidays as historical events, was every bit as reactionary as my own: "I know that it will create controversy, but those who don’t know where they come from don’t know where they’re going."

In response to criticism that moving the days will adversely affect the social well-being of Mexican citizens who relieve stress on the long weekends and that tourist areas will suffer with the elimination of the bridge days, he used one of those diversionary responses that put him in the presidency: “We’re doing a lot of things that are helping tourism grow. We’re cleaning beaches, we’re building the Maya Train and working to increase road security. So this won’t impact tourism. On the contrary, we’ll be affected if we forget our past.”

None of the Mexicans I have talked with are convinced. Since 2006 they have acclimated to three-day weekends just as quickly as I adapted to the migration of Veterans day. Three-day holidays just seem normal to me now. I doubt I would join any movement to move the clock back. (I save that reactionary spirit for the actual rolling back of time associated with daylight saving time.)

Most of the people I know here make all of their living from tourism. And three-day weekends help fill the till.

Will it happen? If AMLO wants it to happen, it will. His MORENA party (along with both left- and right-wing parties in his coalition) control both houses of Congress.

But do not underestimate the populist power of the Mexican public. At heart, AMLO is every bit the populist as any peronista. It will be interesting to see if the Mexican public will relinquish their nine days of vacation. For obvious reasons, two weeks of non-paid vacation just does not sound as enticing as three days of paid vacation.

On this point, though, I am just an observer. After all, I spend life (and my money) as if life were a three-day weekend.

Or, as P.J. O'Rourke puts it: "It's better to spend money like there's no tomorrow than to spend tonight like there's no money."   

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