Only a studio audience of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” could give self-described “socialist” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the lion’s share of applause. But when it came to the issue of vacation time at the workplace, both Sanders and “Real Time” host Bill Maher were crowd favorites.
On Friday night’s “Real Time,” Maher expressed confusion over why the public might feel a sense of indignation toward government employees, who have their salaries and benefits paid for by taxpayers.
“Let me ask about this because there’s this pitting in this country now of public workers versus private workers that I really don’t understand,” Maher said. “We saw what happened in Wisconsin the last couple of months. Now in Ohio, the governor there has also passed legislation this week that bars public workers from collective bargaining. And I heard the argument from the other side is that these public workers get six weeks [of] vacation. And this infuriates private workers. Why? Because America, unlike every other country in the world, gets almost no paid vacation and somehow instead of being mad at the corporations and saying, ‘You know what? We want six weeks’ vacation too, they rather drag other people –’”
Sanders agreed and noted how other industrialized societies, particularly European ones, handle vacation time.
“That’s exactly right,” Sanders said. “Let’s be clear, the people in our country as the middle class declines are working longer hours for low wages. There are jobs now being offered that provide virtually no vacation time at all. And in America we should understand this. Our people are now working almost the longest hours of any other major country on earth. People are under stress. They’re exhausted. And you’re right. We should begin to look at other countries in Europe where people get by law five, six weeks paid vacation.”
The two expressed their disbelief over how Americans operate with little or no vacation time.
“I do not understand this country,” Maher said. “What is the victory in this for people? The average for a private worker vacation per year: Nine days. One in four workers in this country has none. How can life be worthwhile if you work 50 work weeks per year?”
“And people are not working 40 hours per week,” Sanders said. “They’re working 50 hours a week, they’re working 60 hours a week. We have an exhausted workforce and this vacation issue is a huge one that needs a lot more discussion.”
Maher theorized that Americans don’t demand these benefits because they have disavowed socialism on the basis they believe they can work their way into wealth.
“And they’re on the wrong side of it,” Maher said. “I saw this quote and you’ll appreciate this because you’re one of the few people who doesn’t run away from the term ‘socialist,’ which of course is what every modern society is — a hybrid of socialism and capitalism. John Steinbeck in the ‘20s, I guess said, ‘Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. Boy he had Joe the Plumber pegged, didn’t he?”