Part Five - Making Dreams Real
After years of working on ships, I have often wondered about the romantic image ships have for many people. I have worked other jobs that have also had an image that did not fit reality.
I have been a roughneck on a wildcat oilrig, a zinc stripper in the hard rock mining industry, and a long haul truck-driver. Each having its own image that seemed far removed from the reality of the job.
Once, while in a discussion with another Wobbly, talking about the types of work we had done, he made the statement that he thought that I had lived an interesting life. He said that he had only worked a few warehouses and then became an office worker. I realize that every job has its downside, but I have never held a job that I would recommend even to someone whom I disliked.
I have come to understand that the dominant culture has a necessity in creating myths. These myths are a controlling factor in the lives of working people.
There are few working people who are satisfied with their jobs. We all long for something else, for we become tired of the boredom and the conditions of our work. So we dream of being something other than what we are. That is the controlling factor, because, if our internal spirit is directed to fantasies rather than the reality of our lives, then we are not focusing on making our reality a better place.
Years ago there used to be a working class culture that included writers, artists, publishers, poets, songwriters and others. Through whatever means they chose to use, they expressed the struggles, hopes, joys and other experiences of working people from a first hand perspective. In other words, they were working people speaking for themselves. Unfortunately, in today's world where most everyone gets their "culture" out of a square box that they plug themselves into, true working class culture has almost disappeared.
Even among today's radicals, you will find far too many of them plugged into some damn, lifeless machine rather than existing in the real world. Our culture now comes to us from the outside; it is no longer something we have any direct input into or control over. Our cultural role has become that of spectators of preprogrammed fictitious experiences sold to us by the capitalist class.
This new culture does not reflect our lives, our thoughts, or our experiences. Rather the new culture seeks to control and manipulate us for profit. Whereas once our culture enhanced our lives, today culture is used to keep us enslaved. Today the message of the media is, "work, consume, and reproduce" and therein only lies the value of our lives. When the modern media does take a look at working class life, it does so from the outside looking in. Working people are stereotyped into the safety of confined spaces that conform to the capitalist class's view of what working class life should be. It creates fantasies, whereas we dream of living someone else's working class life. We dream of going to sea, or driving a big rig, while we are stuck in a boring office job or on some damn assembly line -- all the while not realizing that those people whose jobs we desire are also dreaming about doing something different. The problem is not so much what type of work we do, but rather the conditions under which we do it. There is a lack of fulfillment in the prepackaged culture that leaves us longing for something more.
One of the necessities of working class social change is a revival of a true working class culture. The experiences of working class life as expressed by working people; be it social commentary, poetry, autobiographies, storytellers, folk singers, or filmed first-hand accounts of working class life, are revolutionary acts of liberation. As Aunt Molly Jackson put it when talking about what a true folk song is: "... I sat down at the dining room table and with the pains in my heart and the conditions, as I often do; I composed a song of the conditions of the people, Which is the only kind of a song which is a folk song ... is what the folks composes out of their real lives, out of their sorrow and out of their happiness and all."
This is the motivation behind my writing, for I truly believe that when working people no longer accept the images and definitions by those outside of our class, and begin to speak for ourselves, then we will be able to act upon our dreams and make them into reality.
So let the voices of the coal miner, the sweatshop slave, the office worker, the yardbird, the truck driver and all other working people be heard once again. For our struggle against the way things are is not just about better wages and conditions, but also the freeing of the creative spirit of the working class. We must once again learn to speak for ourselves and cast off the useless parasites that seek to speak for us. Be it the college professors who call themselves "labor historians" and write about things they have never experienced, or the TV shows and movies that portray working people as slow, dull-wilted, crude and objects of ridicule; all this we must reject. It is we working people who understand the reality of our lives. In other words, we are the experts on the subject of working class life, not those that claim to be.
Were one of those self-proclaimed labor experts, who write books about things they have never experienced, ever to come to my work place they would be like a fish out of the sea. They would be sent off on the grand quest for the keys to the sea chest, or the mythical skyhook, pipe stretcher, or bucket of steam, not knowing they were taking a fool's journey.
So it must be asked: how can we depend on the education of our class from the writings of those who would be lost if placed into the reality of that which they write about? Would this not also be called a fool's journey?