A friend of mine had a boss who found it very difficult to pay his subcontractors – specifically the subcontractors involved in blue collar activity. He’d look at the bills and try and knock off $50 here and there and then remark, “I don’t want to make him rich, the bugger is trying to get rich off me.” At the very same time, he had the same ability to be very generous with people in “white collar” professions. When a lawyer he worked with sent a bill of a few thousand, he actually remarked, “Wah, his bill so cheap ah,” and then told the lawyer to charge more.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated example of a strange disease that people in air conditioned offices seem to have. Nor am I proud to say that I’ve always been immune from it. Far from it in fact. I once had to hire a plumber to fix a leak in Daddy’s Soho flat and I couldn’t understand how the flat blob of a character could justify charging me 400 quid when all he did was to rip up my bathroom, play with a blow torch and tell me to avoid showering for a week.
We, in the “professional” class have a peculiar inability to recognize that people who work blue collar jobs actually do something called work and that they should get paid for it. This disease is such that white-collar professionals tend to begrudge every penny that the “working class” make.
While this disease isn’t exactly limited to Singapore, its particularly ridiculous when it comes to this little island that I call home. The reason is simple – our tropical weather. The guys doing “brain” jobs spend their days in front of a computer in an air conditioned office. When they go for lunch, it’s usually in a swish café where there’s plenty of air conditioned and it’s filled with beautiful people (one of the perks of working in the business district here is – eye candy). By contrast, the guys who do manual jobs are usually out in the sun and the time when the sun is the least kind and even when they’re relaxed or supposed to be relaxing, it’s usually in a pretty crappy place
Do we seriously believe he struggles
When you’re faced with such a juxtaposition, its hard to understand how the guys sitting in the air conditioned offices get the idea that they’re the ones who have it tough while the guys toiling away in the midday sun are having a picnic.
While she has it easy......
The usual line of reasoning is – “Mental Work is more taxing.” I don’t disagree that using your brain can be tough. The brain, like the rest of the body does get tired and if overused without rest can screw you up badly. I also don’t disagree with the fact that you should get paid for the value that you create.
In the construction industry nobody begrudges the architect his pay even if he sits and creates drawings instead of slogging it out with the guys on the work site for the simple reason that the architect’s drawings are the reason for everyone’s existence. You can replace muscle with robots. Theoretically you cannot replace the human brain with a robot (even if we live in the age of AI). I think of the chap who consistently justifies the stress of the guy in a brain job over that of the guy in the muscle job by consistently saying, “The mind is stronger than the body.”
Well, that isn’t exactly quite accurate. Anybody who moves more than five metres-a-day will be able to tell you that the mind isn’t as strong as it claims to be, especially when the body is struggling. The sterotype of the weedy but clever nerd winning one over against the buffy jock isn’t accurate. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example is both well built and highly intelligent. The reason is simple, people who exercise and develop their bodies have to develop strong minds – the mind has to tell the body to keep going when the body cries for a rest.
Then there’s the issue of work. Yes, while I agree that brain work creates more value and should be rewarded accordingly, we need to remember that nothing moves without the muscles actually moving. The brain can send all the signals that it wants to send but if the muscles don’t work, nothing moves – any stroke patient will tell you that it’s a shitty experience to have all sorts of wonderful thoughts spinning through your brain but the body refuses to move then all your beautiful thoughts remain just that.
There needs to be a basic respect between those in brain jobs and muscle jobs. Both parties need to respect the fact that the other chap is actually doing something called work and no party should begrudge things like fair payment to the other party.
I go back to the feelings I had about paying my plumber – bastard earned 400 quid for less than 2 hours work. Every time I look at paying that bill (admittedly I was using Daddy’s money rather than my earned money), I think I studied the wrong course. Then again, I have my step-nephew to thank for setting me straight. He reminded me that plumbers spend their day crawling through shit and the question I ask is how much money would I accept for doing that.
I bring the matter back to the topic of workers who slog it out in the sun. I remember my colleagues in the insolvency firm I work for getting worked up that I was giving away money to help Indian and Bangladeshi workers that the firm had to fire from a construction firm we took over. The legal process denies them money due to them and I put my hand in my pocket to help out a few strangers.
I’ve pointed out to my colleagues that for me to make the money, I just stay in an office that is for the most part quite comfy. Those guys are out in hot building sites and go back to cramped dormitories.
Life generally sucks and every profession has its stresses. Some of us are better at somethings than others and so when we need to get things done, we look for people who can do what we can’t. When they render a service, they should be rewarded accordingly. Society is like the human body – the brains and muscle need to work together. While the brain should generally be calling the shots, it should never begrudge the muscle what is due to the muscle.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea if stroke patients had to have a say in policy making and HR policies. It would help people in brain jobs remember that nothing gets done unless the muscles move.