Sunday, May 29, 2011

the dignity of the worker……

With the way the economy  has been over the past few years, I’ve been involved in a lot of conversations with people about work, or more accurately, the lack of work.  Unemployment seems to be as common as employment, or it at least it feels that way.

Many of  the conversations revolve and evolve into discussions as to how people define themselves.  Some who define themselves as carpenters or auto assemblers or welders or furniture makers have seen their livelihoods and their identifications leave.   They are no longer important, no longer viable.

Where can they find the importance in their lives they once enjoyed?  It used to be people did the same things all their lives and they retired, elevated into worker emeritus, someone to be respected for the work they did, the things they built, and the family they supported.

So, here we are, in an economy that reports that one in eleven is not employed, is not economically productive, and is dependent on the State to support themselves and their families. 

The jobs that are available don’t measure up to how they see themselves, that they are somehow better than what is being offered.  And, the jobs that are available, barely cover what they are being paid on unemployment.  Why should a person work when they get paid nearly as much, or less, not to work?

And, there’s the rub.  In an environment where workers have been treated like machines, where they’ve been disposed of like last week’s trash, where economic considerations only put them into this position; we’re asking them to make economic decisions that don’t make sense in a business way.

We’re asking the worker to act differently than the corporation who taught them to think in a “me first” way, taking the tax break, moving offshore.  We’re asking them to work when work is not the best deal for them.

While we feel it’s the corporation or the government who should lead us from the morass we’re in, it’s the worker who must.  We must rebuild our country from the ground up, not the top down.  We must rely on the dignity of the worker to do what sometimes doesn’t make sense.

Because, it’s the person who builds things, who gets dirt under the fingernails, who provides for his or her family who defines this country.  There is dignity in the worker.  There is dignity in work, no matter the task.  Let’s never forget that.


  1. I'd suggest that you're oversimplifying.

    I'd wager that it's not that most unemployed people feel the available work is beneath them or that they earn more from unemployment. Many unemployed people have exhausted their benefits. They need to work.

    But with such a glut of available labor, employers are being exceedingly selective. I've read stories about employers that don't want to consider those who are unemployed, as if it's some mark of a less-desirable worker. So employers only want to hire those who are employed elsewhere? That won't dent the unemployment problem, now, will it?

    I speak from experience. I have an impressive resume. And thankfully, I have a line on a job that I hope will pan out. But I recently applied for a position with a division of a company for which I used to work (so the company's name was on my resume), for a job with a title that matches, exactly, wording on my resume, and I received the cursory "After careful consideration, we regret to inform you ..." kiss off a day later. Though it was nice of them to respond. Most would-be employers don't bother.

    My point being, I never even got the chance at an interview. I've also applied for jobs that are "beneath" both in terms of salary and responsibility because, again, I need to work, but I haven't gotten anywhere with those, either. In that case, my resume works against me, leading folks to think either a) We can't afford her, or b) She'll get bored and leave in six months when the economy improves and she finds something else, and we'll have to find someone else.

    So i'm too qualified for "mundane" jobs but haven't been able stand out for the jobs that are more at my level because employers are inundated with resumes for every position.

    Complex problem. No easy solution.

  2. Paul Krugman's column for tomorrow is up on the NYT's web site. This is the final graf:

    "As I see it, policy makers are sinking into a condition of learned helplessness on the jobs issue: the more they fail to do anything about the problem, the more they convince themselves that there’s nothing they could do. And those of us who know better should be doing all we can to break that vicious circle."

    It's a good column, worth a read.

  3. and the labor in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, etc. rivals USA's, as you know.
    it cannot rival Scotland's because they have the water, the peat, the weather and the marketing savvy. Thanks be to the whiskey and beef and salmon gods.