Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Labor Class

I've been thinking about some of Brian's comments on economics and now that I'm working the night shift at a warehouse some questions have come up. The company I work for is a worldwide corporation that deals with office supplies. And like it or not I'm somewhat of an office supply dweeb. My thoughts from working this job and having just completed my student-teaching semester at a largely blue collar public high school have led me to wonder about the way economics have affected (or created) a class system in America.

The branch of the company I work for deals office supplies to businesses and our job as the night shift is to fill orders and get them in the trucks ready to deliver the next day. There are just under twenty of us and though I try not to play into stereo types, Nascar and country music are staples (there are probably about three meanings to that word being used here). Everyone is employed full time and many have families.

My problem is that though many of these folks work incredibly hard and long nights five days a week for an average of about $22,000 a year. I don't know that anyone besides the lone manager makes more than twelve dollars an hour. I thought a teacher's salary could be rough but how are people supposed to support families on this much money? Child care alone would consume more than half of that salary. Also because of this wage most of them will be forced to work until their bodies can no longer withstand it. Of course the turnover rate is astronomical. The company offers no shift differential pay like most companies do for employees that work odd hours. But there are those who really have no other options and so they stay and work harder and harder, hoping for a promotion which rarely comes along for those without any form of higher education, and skills are hard to obtain when you're nocturnal. Management likes to milk these folks for all they have, and why not, they have the control in the slim job market of this blue collar city. Frequently when someone decides they are not going to come to work anymore they will not replace that position for a long time in order to save money. Anyway, you get the picture. These people have been stamped with a label so they can be cheap labor.

In my student teaching semester I experienced insurmountable amounts of mediocrity. And when you think about it that is exactly what the name No Child Left Behind says it will do. I had students every few weeks would come into class and ask "Mr. Jones, am I getting a D-?" And if so they felt justified in sitting there and not particaping that day. Not only that but the school was so overrun with programs and prosals for getting test scores up that it seemed I rarely actually had an entire class period to do nothing but teach. The English teachers were so burned out that they did whatever they could to limit the amount of grading they had to do of student writing. Naturally then, the students practically refused to write much of anything at all. I've come to find out now that of the three high schools in the district, ten English teachers have resigned. After a particularly difficult day I thought to myself that the mission statement for the school should have a included something abobut "preparing students for mediocrity."

But then I thought, perhaps this is what America really wants or needs. These kids I taught will become construction workers and factory laborers. And because they didn't succeed all that well in the system they won't have much else a choice. But this perpetuates America's consumerism because with a cheap labor force we can products at a cheaper price. But is there a great price we pay? I wonder to what degree do we also cheapen the human soul.

I have already begun to find work so tedious that tonight I thought of memorizing poetry and reciting it while I worked to inject some degree of interest or soul into the hours we spend in silence performing these mindless tasks. I know this has sounded somewhat like a leftist rant but it is difficult not to get emotional when I'm dealing with people I care about. As little as I have in common with my coworkers I do care about them and wish them the best. As with my students because one reason I got into teaching is that I wanted to develop people and not material products. But these and other things lead me to believe that this capatilist nation purposely wants to create a labor force. When public education was expanding in the early twentieth century, leaders thought nothing of being quite obvious about this when modeling school administratin after successful business models for productivity. My problem with that is that we are dealing humans not lifeless material goods. I wonder are we simply more sublte about it now? Is there really an American dream or are those success stories the exceptions? Have we built America on success stories or on the backs of those striving to be that story?


At 7:56 AM, Blogger Bryan said...

Brandon, wow--I really enjoyed reading what you had to say. It brought back many memories of my time at Lennox. While there I had a hard time because I felt like such a number. My job required no skill, other than the faster the better. Because of the hours (3pm-2am) I lost interest in those things which normally excite me. I didnt read for fun, I did nothing creative, and largely felt unhuman. But for me it was temporary, I am now in College working hard so that I can one day earn an advanced degree and pursue my dreams. What about those who Lennox or the Office Supply factories are thier end? Can they maintain hope? Because I struggled coming to terms with being of no more value than a number.

At 10:34 AM, Blogger Shadow Crescent Knight said...

That was absolutely amazing Brandon! Some of the best stuff I have read in a while, as far as insighting emotions and so forth. With all hope I see things coming to a head eventually. The younger generations are taking the road of mediocrity and so the following generation will be forced into a gloomy future. With despair I see anger and with anger and passion with a little vision there might be a revolution in this country. The country is changing and continues to change and soon all that we know and love that has entertained us for so long won't look so good, atleast i hope!


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