[Marxism] Blue collar / white collar (was: Mark L. on The problem of the US working class

LouPaulsen LouPaulsen at comcast.net
Thu Jun 10 21:27:45 MDT 2004

----- Original Message -----
From: "Mark Lause" <MLause at cinci.rr.com>

> One of the toughest things I ever had to do in my life was make the
> transition from functioning in the world of work to which I was born and
> bred--wage earning blue collar factory fodder--to salary-earning white
> collar "professional" work.  I have never seen the latter display a
> fraction of those examples of knee-jerk solidarity I experienced in the
> former.
> Frankly, I think that this divide is vastly greater than most people who
> never have to cross it would realize.

For five years I worked as a unionized railway clerk.  In our work setting
we had blue-collar clerks and white-collar clerks.  The blue-collar clerks
worked three shifts in a building with unfinished wooden floors that the
train crews would come into, wore work clothes and dealt with waybills and
writing down car numbers etc., and the white-collar clerks worked 8 to 5 in
a different building, the same one that the company president worked in,
which had rugs on the floor, and wore white shirts and dealt with finances
and accounting.  We were all in the same local, we were all on the same
seniority list, we had the right to bid on the same jobs.  And there wasn't
even much difference between the pay rates in the white-collar and
blue-collar jobs.  The blue-collar clerks might even make more money because
they would get overtime.

But there was always much more class conscious behavior among the
blue-collar clerks.  The local president and all the officers were all from
the blue-collar group.  When we went on a brief strike in support of the
Norfolk and Western, the blue-collar workers provided most of the picket
captains and we had only one scab, whereas the business office had several.

It was fascinating from a sociological perspective.  Did the
non-class-conscious people select themselves into the white-collar jobs?  Or
was it because they had the top brass looking over their shoulders more,
whereas we blue-collar clerks spent a lot of time on nights and weekends
without any supervision?  Or because of the different conditions of work
(the blue-collar clerks actually had a lot more autonomy)?  Or was it
because of dress codes - you would never mistake a blue-collar clerk sitting
at the outbound desk in his old jacket for an official?  Or was it because
we on the blue-collar side had the pride in doing something which was
ultimately socially useful - I mean, we were arguably actually helping our
fellow human beings by making sure that cars of coal and potash and oil got
where they were supposed to go, whereas on the white-collar side they knew
on some level that they were just moving numbers around for somebody else's
profit?  I don't know.  It could have been a lot of things.  I really
enjoyed doing it more than anything I have done since.  Of course after I
left they cut out about half the jobs with technological fixes and all.

Lou Paulsen

More information about the Marxism mailing list