Blue collar workers know things about the country by the very nature of the fact that they are building it. In commemoration of Labor day, it's time for a check in with "the blue collar life". There have been several diaries of mine detailing the blue collar life on this site and others. For those who have followed my stories, the update from last time, when my husband was nearly zapped on a site that did not follow OSHA standards for lock/in, lock/out is that he is still alive and working as is the guy who flipped the switch without following proper procedure. The days of safety and loyalty may be gone, at least on some job sites.
My husband is currently working on a site that cannot be named or discussed. So we cannot discuss the heaviness in his heart about the buildings he is helping to create. What dawns on me, when I think of the stereotypical union worker, is once again, how much they really know. How so many of them, think in terms of structure and how they have their ears to the ground and on the pulse of the nation. They know things. As much as I have wanted to dismiss my husband's paranoid rants about what the government may or may not be doing, the truth is, that on many levels my husband has accurately predicted the trajectory since 2001. It pains me sometimes to admit this.
As the hot weather has covered the nation, the same is true in our life. Cooler than normal temps in early August have given way to the high, hot and humid 90's. And per usual, my husband worked inside on the cooler days and was transferred outside on the hottest days of the year. (no planning, he mumbles, no taking care of the workers, no loyalty among workers). Meanwhile the young foreman (a shop rocket) works in the air conditioned building.
There was a time, when foremen worked beside their people to serve as role models, not Kings. On this site, those days are gone. He reports day after day that instead of honoring the men with years of body breaking experience and knowledge, he is dismissed and given the hardest back breaking labor. That his considerable knowledge is ignored as he watches these young foremen who are easily manipulated by money, power and corporate politics be promoted to lead. One of his foremen turned out only a year ago.
He watches in horror as he is ordered to follow the young foreman's instructions, trying to point out that what he is being asked to do, won't work or match up further down the line, or that the work doesn't follow with the standards, or that this or that procedure isn't safe. Only to have the young foreman come back and tell to him rip it down and do it again, exactly the way my husband suggested in the first place. He comes home defeated and frustrated. He repeats "It doesn't have to be this way". Yep the old guy was right. The reports of this, are too numerous to count.
He finally exploded in anger, and complained to someone. He was given some praise for being one of the hardest workers there, but the straw that broke his back was his young foremen telling him that he was working too slow and not hard enough in the 99 degree heat. Last week, he was in trouble for working too fast. This week he is too slow. I cannot imagine the toll this takes on him emotionally. The sweat was literally running out of his hard hat like a river of sweat. He thought later when they all told him to sit down that they were being condescending to him because of what his foremen had said about him not working hard enough. In the heat and exhaustion it's hard to know which way is up. Much less work with the needed accuracy of electrician.
So he blew up in the heat of it all and complained. This next week he is being asked to work for a week doing 3, 12 hour night shifts in a row (6pm to 6 am). His new assignment. He wonders if this is what he gets for speaking up. This may only be his perception, he wants to work, more than he wants to be pampered, so he questions not. He will work three 12 hour nights in a row. I just cannot imagine it. Thankfully it will be much cooler next week. Now he will only battle sleep deprivation and fatigue.
Day after day he comes home from his location and shakes his head. He knows something, something about the future. He has fears about what is coming down the pike in America. He doesn't say "why" for now. He just worries. He gets so angry when the stories about the NSA, war, Snowden, health care, union busting come up. He won't use the internet or computers. He barely uses his phone. He won't text. He says he doesn't want to leave a trace for the government to follow. He worries about my blogging and use of social media. Because he has spent most of his life building America, he knows things.
Whenever, I post these diaries there are people who complain that blue collar workers vote against democrats. In my area, this is just not true. His union is very politically involved and all the men he works with discuss the same issues. They are for the most part on the same page. But keep in mind, that these people are particularly cynical about all government, all politics and for good reason. They are encouraged to vote, they set up voter registration near their large work sites, they hand out voting suggestions. They encourage everyone to support the cause and vote democrat, vote pro union. These people are not ignorant. I find them to be more informed about the problems of today that most white collar people I know. These people are in the trenches. The rest of us have to work to seek out the truth.
They do for others in the blue collar life. There are countless fund raisers for someone having a hard time, or for some big national tragedy. They buy and sell t shirts to raise money for this or that issue. It is absolutely untrue that these guys are not politically savvy. My husband does not read newspapers and blogs, he doesn't write blogs, but he does know far more about what is going on in the world, than his faux news watching friends and family.
As I have shared in the past, I grew up in a white collar home. My dad was a wonderful hard working man. He set the standard for me as a straight A student who worked and supported himself through a catholic school education and worked his way from mail clerk to President of a company. I am lucky to be surrounded by such hard working role models, no doubt.
Even, so, I know of few people who could withstand the hardship of a job in the blue collar trades. It takes years of conditioning to handle the cold, the heat, muscle memory, the walking, the climbing, the fear. The social skills required for working in one crew for months on end and then starting over with a new crew and new boss. Proving yourself over and over again.
Sure, in the white collar world, social climbing and moving up means having to maintain relationships over time, but the stress of starting over and over seems unimaginable, in these harsh conditions. Not only balancing social etiquette but personal safety and politics that seem to shout "We don't care what happens to you!!" One of my husband's greatest complaints is the indelicate discussions around the "shitters". (out houses) See they aren't allowed to use the bathrooms in the buildings they build. They have to use the out houses. Imagine this in the 99 degree heat. They don't get the blue stuff that makes them smell better. Oh what my husband would give for some blue stuff. And they don't follow the numbers...not enough shitters for the number of people needing them. Lines and line...smokers use them to smoke in since smoking is not allowed on most sites. It's deplorable. This makes him want to cry sometimes. What does this mean about you when this is how you are forced to live at work? He says "I wasn't raised this way. Bathrooms shouldn't look or smell like that. It's disgusting." And yet, you can't leave if you are in the middle of no where.
Work hard, bust your balls, your knees and your back but for God's sake (and they always want to use God, don't they?) don't ask to be paid well, or for disability in case you are injured, or safety standards so you don't die, or health insurance so you can take care of yourself, or to be honest when you get hurt so you don't have to pay the 1000.00$ MRI bill yourself or for more shitters or cleaner shitters! (nope that is asking too much you pussy!) You can't know what this life is, unless you live it. Someone might have a brother that works on lawn sprinklers and thinks it's all the same and why should an electrician get 30 bucks an hour?...I say why can't we all just make enough to live a decent safe life? Why should this be controversial? It's not a finite pie regardless of what the 1% tell you. Just because we support union pay does not mean others don't deserve the same considerations...in fact, most union guys are very aware of the fact that they are opening doors for everyone by demanding better.
Then there is the argument: This is what you chose to do. You chose not to go to college to get a better job. And to this I say, bull HOCKEY! First of all, today you have to go to school for most trades. At least 2 years. Then there is a 7 year apprenticeship to work through. (like practicums and internships for white collar folks) There are people on this earth who are destined to work not only with their minds but their hands. They are the artisans. This has been true since the beginning of time. It is our need for these skills that has forced the aristocracy to control them. The low status and wages are an arbitrary shift born out of a fear. A dependence on them to be the builders of wealth. It is Greed and fear that motivates their current low status. We cannot let them know of their importance or value. We must treat them as trash so they don't ask for more and so that we can keep them, use them, control them to build the wealth of a nation. See, they can't get rich without the blue collar worker. And, they know...that the blue collar worker knows...too much. So on labor day, have a beverage, raise a glass for the blue collar workers who built this nation. Salute them for what they know! Recognize that many of those stereo types about blue collar workers are created because of the way they are treated and from positions of power, fear, and greed.
Dear God what I wouldn't give to have just one right wing republican live one month in my husband's shoes. Just one month with a camera following. Dealing with the politics, the emotions, the danger, the discomfort...and yah, let it be someone over the age of 50 who has worked in air conditioned and heated buildings for a life time. Let them try out the "blue collar life" for a month or two.