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Dagoberto Gilb’s and Marge Piercy’s Concept of Work Essay

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Updated: Oct 21st, 2021

Since the discovery and introduction of computer-based technologies, societies began to transform themselves rapidly from industrial to post-industrial. This was the transformation from the industry-based work where men had direct contact with the “production line” of material goods. This revolution of computer-based technology led to the introduction of software-controlled machines that replaced much of the “had-work” done by humans. Workers working in a factory no more had to do all the processes needed in the production line. Computer-controlled machinery replaced them in doing much of the physical work needed. Now, the human factor was useful only as a controller of the work of the machinery. Since this revolution, new areas of work were formed as a result. The work market shifted more and more from the good production industry toward the services industry. Many new types of work were invented. These types of work had less direct contact with the production line of the goods. These developments led to a revolution in the values and norms associated with work within the society. The tradition of “physical work as a universal value of good and pride” for humans began to change. The division of labor and its change of focus toward the service industry made possible the change of thinking over physical work. Now works related to the office and services were evaluated more than physical work. Jobs that were more and more related to technology and computers were seen as “better” than physical works related to fabric or farming, for example. The cult of professionals, who work in offices with computers sitting on a desk, was born. All of the jobs related to farming, fabric, etc. were seen as “inferior” to those related to computers and offices.

In their articles, Dagoberto Gilb and Marge Piercy stand against these modern ideas and values. Both, Gilb’s short essay and Piercy’s poem gratify the values of “physical related work” and that it is not the kind of job you have that determines whether you have more value as a human being, but it is the salary of that particular job that is important. It is not that physical-related jobs are worthless in front of office-related ones, or computer-related ones, but it is the compensation you take for doing such a job that matters. They both are contrary to this new hierarchical division of physical jobs from office or computer jobs. For them, this division that one has more value than the other is damaging society. Gilb ironically expresses his view regarding the matter when he says that: “If you don’t learn your computer skills well, if by some chance you’re bored sitting in front of that screen, day after day under buzzing fluorescents, pecking at a vanilla keyboard, clicking a mouse, it’s your problem, and there will be no excuse for your fate in this new economy: you will be doomed to menial, manual labor”. But why would it be so terrible to be “doomed to manual labor”? Because, replies Gilb, that is “dirty, anybody-can-do work. Poor income, low prestige. Pues, si va la vida, compa, that’s life if you don’t get your stuff right”. Our society has built stereotypes that de-value the physical-manual jobs and over evaluate the computer-related jobs. The traditional values have been changed 180 degrees. Both these author express their view in support of the traditional values of hard manual work and that it is not “a shame” to do these kinds of jobs. On the contrary, Piercy writes in her poem: “I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart, who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience, who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward”. Gilb support’s her view by confirming that, “it’s human to work, to bend and grip, to lift and pull. It’s never about getting tired or dirty. There is nothing wrong with sweat and toil.” But there is something that he adds that Piercy doesn’t. Gilb founds the “root of the problem” not in working in physical jobs but, “It is only about conditions and decent wages that there can come complaint.” He continues, “what isn’t good is to be earning a living that can’t bring in enough money to raise a healthy family, buy a home, go to a dentist and a doctor, and be around comfortably for grandchildren”. That is the problem for Gilb. The compensation that society has decided for these kinds of jobs is not adequate for anyone to earn enough to have a good life. This is his difference with Piercy. On the other hand, Piercy has also something to say that Gilb does not mention. She focuses more on the “spiritual connectivity” between person and work. She says that “the things worth doing well done, has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident”. In this respect, she emphasizes the connection between humans and the things they produce. This is the connection between the worker and the material goods he produces. This is because working is not only something that you must do to survive, it is also an expression of beauty and elegance. Piercy shows this when she says that, “Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums but you know they were made to be used”. This is the kind of work that she defines as “real”. And this is where she differs from Gilb.

In my view, they both have made good argumentation of the present situation relating to physical work in our world. I would be more in favor of Gilb because I believe that he grasps the core problem: that of the smaller monetary reward for physical jobs. We must not forget that it gets a lot of physical work to build the buildings, offices, electrical and other installations inside them. This work is essential for a person who works in the office, sitting before a desk. I don’t think he is willing to get his computer and work on the street. So, society must not forget these people that work hard to build the facilities needed in our everyday life. And to pay them not enough is a way of forgetting them and forgetting that we are sitting, and walking, on the work they have done. We must not forget that even what we are eating is based mostly on that kind of physical work that we evaluate as “inferior” to the office job.

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