The Dignity of Work!

Jonathon and I just finished pressure washing our house.  The last time it was pressure washed Aaron did it for me…and I thought that it would last forever!  When I checked the north side of the ranch I noticed some ugly mildew and wondered why I had been oblivious to it before this week?

I began my working carer as a 17 year old working at Essex Wire Harness Factory in DuQuoin, Illinois.  Essex manufactured the wires harnesses that connected the electrical components for Chrysler trucks.  I was working there at this time of year in  1975.  I perspired so badly that I sweat the socks off of my feet and had to, on my breaks and lunch, take my shoes off and pull up my socks!  I was a bit slow for the carousel that the foreman placed me on, and so I began to drink coffee out of the vending machine in the lunch room during my breaks.  Suddenly I became so proficient that the lead lady on the line called the time study office over to observe my speed!  He brought out his large stop watch and measured my performance and said that he had never seen a person perform the job that I was doing that fast!  The next day they speeded up the carousel!

I vividly recall the assistant superintendent of Building Services and the associate director of the Physical Plant coming to my work site when I was a Building Custodian for Physical Plant, Building Service and their watching me as I scrubbed a spot on the director’s office carpet with a small scrub brush on my hands and knees.  I was neither embarrassed nor self conscious as the job required the workmanlike efforts that I was doing and I felt natural in my work.

person cleaning flush toilet

Photo by on

I was watching the famous author and speaker, Norm Chomsky, last evening as he spoke on the historical fact that manufacturing has become a small part of the economy of the United States while financials and their machinations have become the major component of our county.  Just a few short years ago it was readily understood that all work had dignity!  Whether you were a janitor or a grounds worker or a plumber or an electrician or a mechanic…your hard work was not only necessary but honorable!

I spent my carer in Housekeeping and I am proud of it!  I understood that whatever job  that I was performing for Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale was vital to it’s continued success.  My colleagues and I understood that we were essential to the recruitment and retention of our students.  We knew that our job was as important as the chancellor and the president of the university!

Somewhere along the line we have decided that everyone needs to be involved in the ‘thought’ industry.  We have lost the intrinsic vision of the dignity of work and it’s value to society.  Academics is important…but someone needs to clean the classrooms so that the classes may be taught!

I have, all to often, seen the value of manual labor measured against office work or white collar jobs.  Often these false equivalencies are weighted in favor of the white collar jobs and they find that the blue collar jobs are lesser and not to be desired.  The outcome of this mistaken hypothesis is is painfully illustrated in the current economic condition of our nation.  Half of one percent holds the majority of wealth in the U.S.  Working women and men have been frozen, economically, in place for many years as the primary focus of the elites is to make theirselves richer at the expense of everyone else!

My mother-in-law and my father-in-law both worked carers in factories.  My dad was a mechanic and my step-dad was an electrician.

To value one job over another and to deem certain work essential and other non-essential is much of the reason that our land is in the shape that it is in!

I remember a gentleman that worked at the Ben Franklin Dime Store when I was a boy in Eldorado, Illinois.  He was a dignified and upstanding person who worked his carer at the Dime Store.

I recall buying many pairs of Red Wing Shoes at Breedings Shoes in Murphysboro, Illinois.  There was a man who worked his career as a salesman for Breedings…and he was a professional and admired by the community!

I have personally witnessed many sales people look down their nose at blue collar workers as if somehow by their intelligence and fortitude and karma…they had discovered an elite position in the work force scheme of life.  When in reality every position that is working honestly and sincerely and professionally…adds to the richness of life…equally!

My old friend, Jim, had been an over the road semi truck driver.  To hear his reminisce about his experiences driving across the country would make you want to become a truck driver!

My mom had been a telephone switch board operator in Chicago and she spoke with such joy about the experience that her remarks are indelible in my memory!

When I was a Building Service Worker I or a Building Custodian I would leave the university each night…proud of my contribution  to the success of SIUC!

4 responses

    1. Thank you? Son. You are too kind! 😉

  1. Well said! If more people had this understanding and perspective America would be a kinder and happier place. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Best wishes. Brick

    1. Thank you, my friend!

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