January 18, 2009

The Working Man

Perhaps there is a better distinction to be made than between manual labor and "educated" jobs. Let's try a different approach: between workers, whether simply those who throw boxes around or those whose education varies from housework details to flying planes, and those things we tend to think of as higher than workers (I hesitate to reduce these to "managers", but if that gives you an idea...).

Both are needed to some extent; we can't run society without people to actually do the work, but on the other hand people who organize, investigate, work out diplomacy, etc., can't be done away with altogether. However, it seems like there is an inordinate emphasis put on those latter, considering the others actually do the work.

Need an example? Ok, there's one right at hand. The plane businessmen will do plenty to find out what goes wrong when a plane comes down unexpectedly, argue incessantly over what to do about any and all given flaws in the airline business, and so on and so forth. On the other hand, even though computers do most of the flying, it's the pilot and crew of the craft who save lives if a flock of geese appears out of nowhere shortly after takeoff and knocks out the plane's engines. The mayor and his men up in city hall will do plenty to make the city a better place and facilitate everyone helping each other, but it is the ordinary men who see a downed plane on the river and, throwing schedules and whatnot to the wind, go to help ferry people to safety.

There are heroes among both these classes: who provided good training for the pilot and made sure they were armed with talented men to fly, and who runs businesses that do massive service to our nation and people and give surplus to charity to boot? But my point is that we have this very mysterious tendency as a society to place the latter as more deserving of reward and a standard paycheck except in the rare case that they actually do something criminal or the other saves the day in a crisis.

But when it comes down to it, they both play their part. Politicians argue forever about how best to protect our nation, but it is the ordinary man who dropped everything and drove across the country to aid disaster relief when we were attacked and when a hurricane hit. Just because the politicians do their job every day and the ordinary man does the extraordinary only occassionally when the opportunity shows itself we pay the politician more whether he's being a hero or not and pay the working man little?

It's not just a matter of heroism either. The point is that our society is held up as much by the people who do the work and help each other directly and substantially as by the people who make sure we're held up straight and not going to fall over on our side. Jobs that take more should require more pay, yes, as motivater and whatnot, lest people be motivated to stay where they are instead. But does it really take so much more to manage or informationize than it takes to actually handle a boat or a house, and does the mere fact that the work itself is undesirable not make some good difference in whether most people will be motivated to get "better" work?

Now, I understand there are lots of places where upping the salary of the ordinary worker would throw the company or whatever into risk of debt -- that's the whole problem with the airline business and its pilots, or so I hear. But considering those on top tend to make so much in most such companies (I don't know about the airlines, but in other cases) it strikes me that heroes up there, willing to sacrifice for their fellow men in need like heroes down here are, should be campaigning to have their own salaries lowered just enough to pay their workers better. I'm not a manager so I can't say it can be done in all cases, but it strikes me that when some people become billionaires as the top dogs of their companies it ought to be a piece of cake to give more money to those who actually do the work without substantially depriving anybody on top of money.

Mind you, some people fall into a quirky paradox on these things: the idea that government should take the excess wealth and send it down to the working man. This is paradoxical because the government is among those managing sorts of people, and isn't even the managers of the individual companies or organizations and so has to take a second-hand perspective on the generalizations of them all. That's somewhat dangerous. It can be rightfully done, but it shouldn't be our first resort -- indeed, it shouldn't even be appealing as a last resort. So long as a company doesn't have a monopoly on the market, our first resort should be for those of us who can tell what's going on to support and raise support for those that manage their men justly as opposed to those that promote a ridiculous and not truly just imbalance of wealth (not that all imbalance is unjust, but that in this case there is injustice in the imbalance).

In all, the biggest monkey wrench in actually pushing for the best concerning all this is that our society as a whole is so big that coming to the big managers of big things such as the government's politicians seems the only feasible way to effect change. Small things have a hard time competing anymore. Frankly, I'd like to see the States stay united and all -- I'm not for everyone fighting each other. But I'd like to see more, smaller societies in peace with each other rather than "peace" and difficulty attaining justice brought about by consolidating as many people over as much space as possible into one big society.

Granted, I also know there's a difference between politics of a society and business of a society, and that overcoming big business's flaws is going to take a lot more than achieving the above-described aim politically. The details get tricky here in part because there are so many different ways. I do mean to consider them and work on their details, and I recognise that many of them won't be possible. But I think that the impossibility of many should not deter us from considering what would, if it were to turn out feasible, be better. We should all be working on this problem rather than going straight to D.C. to try to solve it.

Whatever the solution may be, it is my hope that we may eventually see more justice in society where the ordinary working man is valued properly instead of seen as the bottom rung on the ladder.

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Blogger The Sojourner said...

I personally think one of the problems is precisely that manual labor has become the province of the "uneducated." (I put that in quotes because one of the cleverest people I knew was a fellow who'd dropped out after the sixth grade.)

The more I learn about politics and business the more I think Jefferson was right with his whole yeoman farmer idea. Not everybody has to be a farmer, necessarily--we'd still need doctors and such--but no one should be considered a proper adult unless they've personally experienced the value of working with their hands.

January 18, 2009 1:46 PM  

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