“Sorry to ask because I know how busy you are and how hard you work…”
An email I got last week, asking for a favour. I bit my lip and paused before replying. It’s the way to praise people now, isn’t it? Wow at how busy they are, and compliment them on work ethic, because hardworking is the only thing to be.
In paid employment, we sell our labour for money. The jobs I’ve done over the years have been wide ranging, schizophrenic almost. In alphabetical order they are:
Carer for family member
Cleaner in a private home
Cleaner in a residential home for the elderly
Cleaner in student accommodation
Manager at radio station
Radio talking head
Supply teacher at secondary school
Teaching assistant at secondary school
Tutor for disadvantaged young people
Tutor for knitting group
Writer of fact
Writer of fiction
Sometimes I am well rewarded for my labour, other times not so much. For me, some jobs are physically tiring or leave me with a tension headache; some I dread, and a number I enjoy. It’s a mixed bag. I’m a writer; I end up doing all manner of things on top, but in all of these jobs, I’ve worked at pretty much the same pace. There’s no working hard at one and sitting with feet up in another.
We’re told aren’t we, that if we work hard we’ll be prosperous, that’s the golden rule. Work will set you free, you’ll earn money to put food on the table and a roof over your head, all the clichés, work hard and everything will be fine.
But it’s not, is it? Everything isn’t fine, not at all.
I’m hearing more and more of friends in financial dire straits, homes with two incomes, it’s just not happening, the work hard and you’ll be ok thing. They say they’re lucky to have a job, fortunate for somewhere to live, pleased to be eating and having water in the tap to drink and wash with.
No, they are not lucky. You are not lucky. I am not lucky. We are not lucky. It’s our right to have a good and comfortable life no matter what, and we’ve forgotten that.
The hard working label is a myth. It doesn’t mean anything. How do we measure it, how hard we work? By how many hours we work? How much sweat is squeezed from our pores? How much our muscles ache? How exhausted we are at the end of a shift? By measuring how much we dislike our jobs? Because surely, if we enjoy our jobs then it can’t be work and we can’t be working hard. Do we measure it by how much coffee we have to drink (because we’ll collapse of exhaustion otherwise)?
What rubbish. No one is working harder than anyone else. We all work roughly the same but rewarded differently. We need to get our heads around that. People who work harder don’t get rewarded more. The person with the biggest car, house or shinier shoes and who goes on the poshest holiday doesn’t work harder than the one who scours the bargain shelf at the supermarket, or who shuttles from shop to shop sniffing out the bargains.
And it is not just those in paid employment. Disabled people can find it takes as much effort to get through the day as it does for someone else to teach a classroom of boisterous children over the same hours. Stay at home parents with children, the same. Unemployed people go through horrors at the job centre, forced to apply for jobs they’re never going to get, Kafkaesque job interviews where the vacancy is already filled, stress levels at the max, dodging sanctions. If that’s not hard work, I don’t know what is.
But still we all must stress how hard we work. Hard work is a virtue; work is the new god, one we must worship 24/7, because if we don’t we’re shirkers, or worse – heaven forbid – not hardworking. Hard working is the thing to be, the ideal to strive for. If we’re not exhausted at the end of the day, then how can we have been working hard?
We believe the hard work rhetoric, that if we work hard we get to have nice things. And those who don’t work hard? They deserve nothing, and if they have nice things, then that’s just not right.
Everyone does it, goes on about their own hard work. Everyone. Even if you don’t think you do, watch yourself. At some point it’s slipped out, your mouth forming the words before your brain catches up and chastises you. Sedentary workers stress coffee on an IV drip to survive an exhausting day. “NEED COFFEE NOW!” No wonder Starbucks do so well.
The unemployed are forced to plead how hard they are working to try and find a job. Hardworking families, hardworking tax payers… Being hard working makes us righteous, indignant, angry, part of the hard working good; better than those who are not. The lazy, the workshy, the idle bastards, they mean us harm. And if we’re working hard and still skint then it’s our own fault. It must be.
We’ve been sold a lie. The lie that if we work hard then we get the good stuff, that if we do the right thing – whatever that means – we’ll be ok, and that if we don’t do the right thing, we deserve our poverty.
We’ve been fed the lie and we suckle it up, guzzle it, smacking our lips in approval afterwards. Yes, we’ve been flogged a lie, alright. Though few of us can afford it, it’s one we’re more than happy to buy.