Friday, November 01, 2013

So This Is Grim

I'm teaching this Working Class Lit class, as y'all know, and one of the possible paper assignments is to write a non-fiction narrative of their own working class experience.

We've read a lot of working class histories in the class -- narratives from the 19th century and early 20th century: miners, steelworkers, a black guy who was in debt peonage on a Georgia plantation after the Civil War, factory workers from Paterson in the early 20th century.

 Do something like that! I said.  Use your own history! I said.

Well, they are.

These are working class students, almost entirely from working class backgrounds.

The jobs they are describing for me, their narratives -- I thought I knew about rough jobs and abusive bosses.

Yeah, no.

Fifty and sixty hour work weeks, routinely, and for no overtime.

Toxic environments.  Insufficient sanitary arrangements.  Killing heat.  No benefits. No retirement. Unsafe working conditions -- one student writes of working in a warehouse that floods routinely, so that the cement floor is slimy with mold and silt.  They're loading heavy cargo in this warehouse, and if they slip (as they do) they risk serious injury.

Workers with seniority (and thus higher pay) are driven out or fired for specious reasons so that they can be replaced with temp workers.

Once these workers have been pushed out of their jobs, the companies find ways to deny them unemployment benefits.

Very nearly the worst part of this is the miserable pay these students are getting for doing these jobs -- these are hard-labor, exhausting jobs, that damage them physically and often expose them to toxins and other health risks; and almost none of these jobs pays enough to live on or provides benefits.

And -- of course -- none of them are union jobs.

This is Arkansas, after all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here is us on the topic.