The Dignity of Work

Last night in Chicago we saw a moving performance of “Working,” the musical based on Studs Terkel’s 1974 book. One of the themes that emerges centers on the hope we all share that our children will do better than we do. An iron worker’s son disappoints his dad by not going to college, but rather becoming an iron worker just like dad. A hotel maid whose mother and grandmother had both been housekeepers sings of her hope that her infant daughter will have a better life. In a wry turn, the son of a hedge fund manager enters the world of finance, perhaps better equipped than his dad because he “had an ethics course in college.”

Many of the workers also express their willingness, indeed their obligation, to sacrifice to be sure their kids are well provided for and in their own time well launched into the world of work.

Cleaning women and caregivers, stone masons and iron workers, burger flippers, receptionists, and tech support people, a waitress, a retiree, a hedge fund manager, a UPS delivery man, a prostitute, a fund raiser, a press agent, a housewife, a student, a fireman, a school teacher, and a flight attendant… like us they all have stories to tell, they’re all human, they all work.

One aspect of finding a job and keeping it that isn’t examined in “Working” are the ever so human practices of nepotism and croneyism. I would have been sorry to miss it, so I’m feeling lucky that a musical comedy number played itself out over the last few weeks in the offices of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. There’s a kid, Brian Deschane, a college drop-out. No shame in that, Governor Walker himself was a college drop-out. The kid’s got a couple of drunk driving convictions. No shame in that. The last Republican President of the United States had a few youthful indiscretions under his belt. They didn’t hurt his job hunting prospects. But Governor Walker has been under a lot of scrutiny since he devalued the work of all public employees in the state. So things didn’t work out too well for young Brian. Yet. I’m sure he has a great future ahead of him, though.

From the Huffington Post: “In the young man’s lack of management experience and two more drunk driving convictions than college degrees, Walker saw untapped potential. Another thing he saw in Deschane was the way his father — Jerry Deschane, the executive vice president of Wisconsin Builders Association — skillfully managed to stack dollar bills in the amount of $121,652 for Walker’s gubernatorial campaign.”

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  1. Zo
    Posted April 9, 2011 at 4:54 | Permalink

    It’s almost too painful to think about. What people went through, not so long ago, to *create* unions.

    • Posted April 9, 2011 at 5:16 | Permalink

      Yes. And the benefits we all enjoy because of that sacrifice are ignored, forgotten, and now being eroded away faster than we imagine.