I’ve read all the news coverage I can of the union-company negotiations (Please?! Someone leak something useful!), worked half as many hours as I did last week, and find myself every bit as exhausted. Maybe it’s just the nature of the work to wear a body out, so completely that it doesn’t matter how many hours you are or aren’t there. But I reject that notion, that the work is designed to not only ignore our humanity, but to systematically destroy it. I have seen some powerful acts of humanity from my co-workers. I was looking at the union bulletin board today and saw a funeral notice, for a service that is taking place in Florida. For the father of a man who works here in Michigan. I have no doubt that sometime in the next few days, someone will be coming around with a card. Complete strangers will sign it and everyone, but everyone, will dig deep into their pockets and contribute whatever they can to the man who just lost his father. I don’t know if it will be a buck or twenty spot. But when someone has to take a week off work, bills pile up and it’s not like anything will be any easier for him.
But for as awesomely humane as we can all be, there are moments when rage and inhumanity threaten to just boil right over. Recently, there was a major breakdown. Some big important part that connects to some other big important part broke. Huge, terrible catastrophe. Which, of course, coincided with visits from all the big bosses. We were told by our lower boss that “Housekeeping” is a big part of the new policy of European-style manufacturing. All I could think was that I guess they’re probably going to start in-sourcing some new janitors. Because I’ve seen….two? Maybe three? I have absolutely no problem cleaning up my own work area, straightening up my own stuff. But this policy means that we are never supposed to be sitting down, if the line is stopped or there is a gap with no cars. Well, guess what? I (and all my co-workers) didn’t hire in to be janitors or hotel maids. Those are fine, honorable, necessary jobs. Just not the ones we were hired to do. So, Boss, I guess you’d better grab yourself a mop.
This is all background for a couple of conversations that I had later with co-workers. One told me that I was being unreasonable and that I should just be grateful that I have a job. The other was more nuanced, but I thought they dovetailed nicely together. I think “grateful” is a really, really loaded word. I am very glad to have a job, and I am eternally grateful to the person who gave me a chance to get in there and earn my daily bread. If I had another child, I’d make him a godparent. Truly. But I’m troubled by the notion of being grateful for my paycheck. Every single person that gets themselves together and makes it into that plant is earning their check. Earning it. No one is going in there, and collecting a charity basket, or a welfare check or whatever else. And in this new world order, in which we’re told that for every one of us working, a hundred more are outside waiting, we’re supposed to be scared and grateful for every little crumb. I don’t like that. It’s disempowering and dehumanizing. It’s impossible to be one’s fullest human self if one is always, always, always looking over a shoulder, wondering which side is going to get shanked. The purpose and reason work (as far as I can tell) is to make a way to have a decent life, a life with dignity and purpose. Not to be constantly on the defensive, wondering where the damn mops are.