Do you ever wonder what your role would be in a post-apocalyptic world? I do.
Why? Because I have very few real-world skills. I can dissect a piece of writing and produce a paper pretty quickly, but would books even still exist?
I can balance a budget, but could I balance a barter agreement? Would there be barter agreements?
I could bear and rear children which—while noble in any circumstance—is not a path that I am inclined to follow now or then.
One thing I do know is that my education would be nearly useless, but my dad’s 35 years as a logger would be an important commodity. A mechanic may not have cars to work on, but their skills are transferable to machinery in general. The same for fishermen, chefs, oyster farmers, and construction workers. They can do something tangible.
But why should it take an apocalypse for the world to realize the true value of workers who make the world go ‘round?
Our middle class is shrinking so much that it may no longer be the class majority in the United States. In the whole decade of the 1980s, the middle class was booming. My dad was (is) a logger and my family lived well. My mother was a stay-at-home mom who had three kids by 1990, which is a scenario that is almost unheard of at this point.
In 1985, Alabama released a song called “40 Hour Week (For a Livin’). They said, “Hello Northwest (Timber Workers) let me thank you for your time. You work a forty hour week for a livin’, just to send it on down the line.”
Oh you don’t remember that line? That’s because it wasn’t in there. But it should have been.
They do, however, thank steel mill workers, auto workers, and “the one who swings the hammer, driving home the nail, or the one behind the counter, ringing up the sale. For everyone who works behind the scenes.”
There’s been a push throughout my childhood and adolescence to avoid all of these things and for everyone to get a college degree. This means, of course, that technical skills are falling by the wayside. The massive amount of student debt being created is detrimental to 20-somethings who feel like they have no choice but to bury themselves with it.
When we are making mortgage-size student loan payments monthly and living with four roommates to make ends meet, the odds of taking on a real mortgage is slim. When we can’t get quality paying jobs with benefits, when we’re paying anther $400 a month for health insurance, there isn’t much wiggle room.
And on top of that, many liberals see blue-collar workers as less-than, which contributed significantly to the election of our current President. The “Liberal Elites” are real. When I told a Seattle-ite that my boyfriend was a logger, he asked snarkily “Is he smart?”
“Yeah,” I said, “or people die.”
We all know that the Zeitgeist is shifting in ways that are not necessarily the way I’d like the world to go, but the shift toward the power of the middle-class is positive shrapnel. The blue-collar workers need to get the credit that they deserve. As a society, we need to value something other than just education and we need to encourage young people to look outside just university.
The Right side is taking power back, and the Left needs to include the middle-class on the list of classes they’re fighting for. Yes, racism, sexism, transphobia, and xenophobia are real and they should all be fought for. But classism is real too.
It’s time to recognize what Alabama said 30 years ago, and once again buy into their lesson. Maybe the American Dream is real and maybe it isn’t, but there’s no denying that our country was built on the backs of the working class.