Living Out Loud

Working Class Heroes


I love working class people. Most of us find ourselves in that category. That's not to say that if you are a business owner or you're in management that I don't have some feelings for you too, but my people are the working stiffs. In my who time working in education, I have always been the nicest and most solicitous to the custodians and house keepers. Too many people treat them as servants or act as if they are invisible. Not me. I learn their names, including that of Mrs Vivian Teasley, whose picture heads this post. I ask them questions about their lives. I try not to walk on their freshly mopped floors, and I feel sad when they get assigned somewhere else. I'm polite to teachers and professors too. Their jobs are valuable, and they are my customers.

I do not like the attitude that grown-ups don't deserve "thank yous" for doing their job, that a paycheck is all the thanks you are entitled to. It takes little effort to give someone kudos and for some people with rough home lives, it may their only opportunity to hear kind words. When I put in extra effort at work and my boss notices it, it makes me feel good to be told that he appreciates it. When I was in high school, I lived with my uncle on his farm. He undoubtably loved me dearly, but he was old school and didn't believe in praise. I was a teenager doing the work of a grown-ass man and his answer to every task I completed was to give me something else to do. I learned some very valuable lessons about working hard but at the time I just wanted to hear him tell me that I'd done a good job. In his golden years, he's become somewhat softer and tells me all the time how proud he is of this or that. I just want to put him in a time machine and take him back to 1981 to say that to 16-year old me.

I've had a couple of jobs in my life that are kind of contradictory to my current social values, serving in the military and being a prison guard, but I'm not mad at my past self for trying to earn a living. Even these days when I have extreme criticisms of our criminal justice system and militarized police forces, I don't subscribe to the ACAB philosophy. Frank Serpico wasn't a bastard. We have cops working inside the system trying to influence their peers and make things better. They deserve working class support. I have a close family member who works for Tesla on the Cyber Truck line. Can you think of a worse place to be earning a living in 2024? He doesn't support Elon Musk's fascist beliefs. He does everything within his power to use the tools he's given to make the best vehicle possible under the circumstances. I feel for him. I don't judge him.

Look, we live in a world with vast income inequality and a hoarding of wealth by the 1% to the detriment of us all. In the South people are conditioned from birth to distrust unions and we are hampered from organizing by some of the most anti-worker laws in the country. I'm a retired state employee in NC and our state forbids civil servants from entering into collective bargaining. That's right. It is illegal to get with your peers to ask for a joint contract. It's a law that goes back to the Jim Crow era when white and black sanitation workers in Charlotte were organizing together. Despite its racist past, the legislature keeps the law in place and all state workers can be fired at will for no reason. Welcome to NC!

Next time you are tempted to ignore the person who cooked your burger or cleaned the toilet at your office, don't. Find a way to say thank you and condition yourself to feel gratitude for the labor of others. It's a step in the right direction for making a better world.