White Collar, Blue Collar: There is a difference

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WorkersFlickrBy Chris Maukoken. Originally published at Finnish Perspective.

The game is rigged and nobody seems to notice. Nobody seems to care! Good honest hard-working people; white collar, blue collar it doesn’t matter what color shirt you have on. – George Carlin

Well George this is NOT entirely correct. It does make a difference and a fairly big one. The difference is cultural. The George Carlin clip this is from – George Carlin on the American Dream – which Elliott used as a diary the other day, got me thinking of the difference — view and thinking.

Before WWII there were nowhere near as many so-called white collar workers. Managers, professionals, engineers etc. Few people were college graduates and the need for them was much lower. Most jobs were either in factories or mills or trades or agricultural. The environment was one of more mutual cooperation and mutual respect and mutual interest. Especially those areas that were unionized, with the unions growing tremendously up through the 1930s. The union and union workers looked out for each other’s interest and supported each other. If one union went out on strike, oft times others would follow in support. It was a community both on the job and off.

After WWII this situation changed. The GI bill, financial aid and the creation of inexpensive state and community/junior colleges meant that more people could get college degrees and the increasing white collar/office jobs that the newer technology was calling for. Engineers and managers and designers and what not. The work environment was quite different in the office/professional arena than that the blue collar factory. Instead of cooperation, competition was the byword. Dog-eat-dog. The fella in the office/cubical next to yours was no longer your friend but your competition for the raise, promotion, new position. In college and the university, beating the next guy out for that grant and research money.

This followed over to your personal life as well in suburbia. The best house and yard and biggest party etc. Car, vacation and school for you kids. And the workers as something to exploit so one could look good to the boss. Embracing the capitalist ideals, competition and corruption, feeling threatened by anything that challenges it.

The left which had been the bastion of the blue collar workers also began to shift to the college youth and then white collar world. Eventually the traditional enemies of the factory workers and tradesmen were now grabbing the mantle of the liberal/progressive. And almost schizoid role reversal began to emerge. But unlike the left of the blue collar world where the members were willing to fight for themselves and each other to advance the goals of the whole, this “new left” would compete with each other and avoided anything that might put their situation at work and at home in any jeopardy.

Lest they lose their position, income or job. Being branded as a trouble maker or worse. Having nowhere else to go and being treated by the this “new left” as they had always been treated by “the management,” the blue collar workers abandoned the left and even joined the right wing — their previous enemies.

Which is pretty much where we are today. A white collar/professional left who doesn’t say or do anything that might upset their own personal status quo. A blue collar right who distrusts anything the left says or does since these “new leftists” refuse to take the required actions, lest they lose their cherished positions. And treats them like lowlifes or worse.

Certainly this played into the hands of the elites at the top, whether this was planned or not isn’t the point. It has defined our politics and agenda since the late 1970s at least or at least a good part of it.

But this is beginning to unravel. With fewer and fewer of these white collar jobs available, as witnessed by the large graduate unemployment, and more and more graduates having to take jobs in the trades or crafts or even the service industries, their allegiances are changing.

Others are working together or as private contractors or consultants. Forming group associations to further themselves both inside and out of their occupation. Not unlike the guilds of old. Some formal, others not so much. The very technology that created this college-educated class of liberals, is now working against them and creating a situation where the office environment is becoming more and more of an anachronism.

Having less and less to do with the politics and economics of old, what will come of this I do not know, but I do suspect that the “new left” and “new right” will eventually be left in the dust.

With independent being the largest growing political stance, the old politics will die out.

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