Posted by: Bill Tracy | July 20, 2017

Do Jobs Matter Anymore?

The world of employer and employee, like that of master and slave, debases both.

-Edward Abbey


In 1975, the streets were full of workers who looked like this.

In 1975, the streets were full of workers who looked like this.

I had a job 40 years ago. Most people did. The “economy” was still on the post-WWII upswing. Pretty much there was work for anyone who wanted it.  I’m not sure I’d have a job today. The world of work has changed dramatically. Forty years ago I read a magazine piece that became the bible of how you perceived the workplace. As I read this magazine piece today, I see little relevance to workers in 2017. I don’t see workers in the “gig economy” relating much to this. I hear people talking about “projects,” but not many talking about “jobs.” I hear people talking about “clients,” not bosses.

From Esquire Magazine, circa 1978

WORK – The Brutal Truths

  • Your objective in a job is not self-expression but to put bread on the table.
  • No formal training (high school, college, tech school, etc.) will have prepared you for a real job.
  • The person who will hire you is interested only in how much you can help him. He is not interested in helping you.
  • Staying happy on the job is solely your responsibility.
  • There is only one perfect definition of doing a good job: making your boss look good.
  • Your real boss is the person who can get you a raise by consulting only one other person – and who can fire you without consulting anyone.
  • Don’t expect thanks for a job well done. That is taken care of by the person who brings around your paycheck.
  • The best job security is being able to demonstrate a direct connection between your work and the profits of the company. If you can’t prove that, you are expendable when business slows down or there is a change in management.
  • You will be liked by everyone at work only if you are an attractive and quiet person on the very lowest rung of the organization.
  • If you are thinking about asking for a raise and have doubts that you’ll get what you ask for, you won’t get it. In other words, you’ll always know beforehand if you’re worth the money.
  • The shit usually hits the fan the day after the night you came in at four a.m.
  • No company will indulge you or your real or imagined problems beyond a certain point. You can be fired. So much for the current notion that the company is a substitute for the family.
Getting the work done today.

Getting the work done today.

That was published around the time I entered the “professional” workforce; I had graduated from college and had landed the position of editor with a book publishing company. You would never make a lot of money in such a job, but it was secure, steady, reliable. My days of truck driving, mechanicing, beating people up (figuratively) for a loan company and helping to needlessly kill people (literally) for the U.S. military were behind me. The company had me sign papers for a pension. I could not imagine the 2012 “retirement” date I saw on those papers. Could there possibly be a time that far in the future? They had every expectation I would work there for 35 long, uninterrupted years. Hell, the company didn’t survive 35 years! Changes came slowly, but they’ve been big over time.

Door-to-door services is part of getting by today. No boss. No security.

Door-to-door services is part of getting by today. No boss. No security.

Last January I was in a coffee shop in downtown Philadelphia. I sat at a small table occupied by a bicycle messenger. He was a good looking guy, perhaps 30; someone you’d expect to have established a career foundation. I talked to him a bit, but he was reading what looked like a trashy novel so I went quiet. He kept being interrupted by his cell phone, text messages I presume, and a portable radio that was his tether to a dispatcher. Multi-tasking? Or simply the way life is lived by the attention-deficit-disorder generation? I wondered how he survived with earnings as a bicycle messenger.

Like many young folks today, that probably isn’t his only job. Maybe he works as a cook or a bartender in a restaurant at night. Maybe he’s an artist and has a business doing design work on the side. Maybe he has an Etsy business. It’s a safe bet no one is handing him pension papers to be signed. No one sees his future in 2052. What does he do for health care? Is he uninsured? If he gets hit by a car and incurs tens of thousands of dollars debt, is he bankrupt for life? This is an entirely different work world today, one that I am no part of, one that I can’t even comprehend. How do you respond at a cocktail party when someone asks, “So, what do you do?” Forty years ago, you’d be defined by a job. Today, that may not be the case. Is it for the better? Do they have cocktail parties anymore?


Some unions have survived, so some folks still have traditional "jobs," but it seems the exception rather than the rule.

Some unions have survived, so some folks still have traditional “jobs,” but it seems the exception rather than the rule.


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