I’ll Do It!

This is the Year of the Rooster, but also the Year of the Volunteer  – you may have seen the TV ads for the website www.yearofthevolunteer.org.
This is a government-run scheme, aimed at “encouraging active citizenship”, but if we leave aside the government involvement, the whole volunteering set-up  is both interesting and positive from a socialist viewpoint.

Some people volunteer because they believe or hope that it will be useful for their careers, but the vast majority do so because they see themselves as genuinely contributing to the well-being of their fellow humans. Voluntary activities include almost everything from helping people to make phone calls or fill in
forms, teaching English or the use of computers, helping blind people get to appointments, befriending and supporting those with HIV, working for St John’s Ambulance or the Samaritans, counselling people with all sorts of problems, even working as a Special Constable.

And all this is done unpaid, in the volunteers’ own time, often in addition to paid  employment, and with no reward other than the satisfaction of helping.

In the light of this, how can anyone object to socialism on the grounds that in a society of free access nobody would wish to work? If people’s consumption is not dependent on their work, the argument goes, why would someone want to work at all?

One answer, as we have seen, is that even under capitalism people work voluntarily, probably not even regarding what they do as work, as it is not employment. This is not because they are saints or angels but because they do not want to see others suffering or in difficulties. And helping others means helping yourself too. Age Concern carried out a survey of elderly volunteers, which found: “Volunteering benefits older volunteers in many ways, including making new friends, gaining self confidence, losing weight and living healthier lives.

“More than half (51%) of the over 65s who took part in Age Concern’s report said volunteering improved their health and fitness and 62% said volunteering helped reduce stress” (From the above website).

So there you have it: even in a society of pressure and alienation voluntary work can be good for you. Just think of the pleasure of work in a world where there are no bosses, no dangerous workplaces and no production of useless rubbish.


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