If you’re reading this page, the answer is likely no. I remember reading that if you are at a gathering of college educated persons, not one of them will know personally anyone who is not. They can cast around for the name of the plumber or something to make their working class bona fides, but it’s not the same thing. With a few exceptions, educated persons don’t know people who are not, and vice versa.
I am not fixing to hold myself up as any sort of example of anything. I don’t fit in anywhere and so am useless as any sort of ruler to measure such things. I drift along through many sets of people, and belong to none, really. Maybe I should be a writer. I have no fixed perspective.
I have worked in a factory. More than one. A big old brick building with tall windows and a punch clock and battered formica tables and two vending machines in a break room. Union, some of them, too. I know what it’s like. A lot of people who have never known work talk about the loss of belching smokestack factories like it’s a plague of locusts or something. If they ever worked in one they might feel differently. I can’t properly describe the sensation of eating your lunch out of a paper sack and reading an inexpertly printed missive from personnel (they used to call it that without shame) telling me, just 19 years old, that all I had to do is work another 49 years putting the same tiny screws into some holes while looking at a gauge, and I could retire with a little pension.
They never understood why I left. My fellow workers, grown old and crabby in the traces, tried to get me to explain, which I could not do without insulting them, and then, frustrated, barked at me that I’d be sorry. I never was. The factory has been shuttered and dark for decades now, and they all lost their jobs. The world is a shark and must always swim. I recognize the charlatans that say the shark must stand still no matter how they tart up the presentation. Numbskull Canutes want to rule the world.
There can be dignity there, in a factory. If there is work that is not dignified I have not seen it. You must bring the dignity with you, as in all things. It will not be supplied to you. It cannot be taken from you if you will keep it.
That picture is taken in 1940. There is certainly dignity in that picture, along with hard work and danger and a wage, and it shines right through. Old Kenyon’s Johnnycake Mill in Usquepaugh, Rhode Island. I used to visit the towns around there often in the summer. And the place is still there.
It’s marvelous it’s still there after centuries. The shark must swim. It does not devour all its young, though.