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Rethinking Production in Our Culture By William Wimpisinger We need a cultural revolution in how we think about work. For too long we have denigrated productive labor. Business schools stress finance, not production. Apprenticeship programs have been starved for support, despite the shortage of many categories of skilled labor. Television programming systematically glorifies white collar jobs no matter how menial, while blue collar workers are depicted as prejudiced buffoons. \(This last is a vicious calumny; you’ll find far more racial and ethnic prejudice in the country club and the corthis environment, even craftsmen encourage their kids to look down on their parents’ skills and to opt for a college education devoid of any concept of how goods are actually produced. As a result, we have a surplus of people who know how to write research papers, apply for foundation and federal study grants, talk learnedly about a host of highly specialized disciplines and theories, but they can’t find jobs and do not know how to stop a running toilet, fix a leaking faucet, replace a broken light switch, or identify anything on an automobile more complicated than the gas tank cap. We are a nation of industrial illiterates. I do not wish to appear to be a blue-collar snob, but the time has arrived when society must give priority to manpower programs which may combine plumbing and steamfitting with poetry and philosophy; which will permit political science and sociology majors to learn how to be mechanics, machinists and tool and die and pattern makers, too, and vice versa. In other words, we must learn how to work with both our hands and our minds. That requires respect for all productive work, both physical and mental. It requires a conscious societal effort at life-long education that uses part of the surplus from technological improvements to improve the skills and the knowledge of all Americans. Americans suffer from a kind of philosophical Taylorism: that we should know how to do one thing and one thing only. In Europe, craftsmen and laborers have a keen interest in things political and poetic, in knowledge for the sake of knowledge, as well as their primary economic and occupational pursuits, but there is a lack of interest in books, the arts, , music and philosophy in the American workplace. That may have served us well enough when technology changed more slowly, but it has served us badly in recent years as the speed of change has accelerated, and it will serve us very badly indeed in the next century. As someone has said, “Training is for monkeys; education is for people.” It is education that will permit workers to be creative, adaptive, and competitive in the global political economy. It’s a long road from the America of Ronald Reagan and George Bushof each grabbing for his neighbor’s share and the devil taking the hindmostto the America that organized labor has always sought. Since the origins of the labor movement, unions have sought to achieve collectively a fairer, more equitable order in the workplace and in the larger society. There have been detours, side tracks, and leaders of limited vision, but labor’s goal has always remained that shining city on the hill where there are good jobs for everyone in a fair society in which all participate in economic as well as political decisions. In that city, there is dignity for all work and all workers, and none enrich themselves by speculating in the misery of others. That is the basis for a good society and for a peaceful world. From William W. Wimpisinger, Reclaiming Our Future: An Agenda for American Labor, ed. by John Loge, Foreword by Sen. Edward Kennedy, Press, 5500 Central Avenue, Boulder, CO 80301. 18 SEPTEMBER 20, 1991