Despite the impact of “Stupid-19,” life rolls on in a very essential fashion for myself and many other workers. In my case, I work in energy distribution, and here in the cold northeast, the “propane must flow” if homes were to be kept warm this past winter, and some level of comfort is to be maintained for those stuck inside from sickness or unemployment.
Many of those “stuck inside,” however, are part of a particular caste that a favored podcaster of mine likes to call those with “e-mail jobs.” Many of them work for various levels of government or as middle managers within every corporation in America. Many, if not most, of these people will never have to work 75 hours a week, drive and/or grind it out in terrible weather conditions, and then get home too late to put their children to bed.
Seventy-five hours a week? No, I’m not making this up. Many people working in essential services such as utilities maintenance or trucking regularly put in this kind of time. Thanks to the “COVID Emergency,” many trucking operations have been granted Hours-Of-Service waivers which allow their drivers to exceed legislated maximum working hours. Sometimes this might be necessary; often it is not. But you’ll never catch the “e-mail job” caste pulling 75-hour weeks. In fact, they often use tools such as these waivers to cover for their own incompetence and disorganization. As a colleague of mine quipped, “If we can’t get it done today, just blame COVID.”
Well, I’m tired of “blaming COVID” and letting this caste of people off the hook. Everyone knows about billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, and the many deleterious effects their influence has on society. Very little, however, is mentioned (again, save by some podcast hosts) about the more insidious and distributed effects of an entire class of managers who have very real and direct power over the lives of workers.
As others have noted, we don’t have a battle between the 1% and 99%—it’s more like a battle between the 20% and the 80%. Many within that 20% are what author Barbara Ehrenreich describes as the “Professional Managerial Class”: managers and human resources drones who spend much of their time in meetings that produce nothing but policies which paternalize workers and produce no material benefits for us. It is this portion of the 20% that needs their power reckoned with, and reigned in.
Those HR and other middle management types make “busy work” for themselves, though it is darkly ironic that the “busyness” in which they are engaged often results in making my work more difficult and time-consuming. Not to mention that their salaries, which they justify through the busy work, leave less behind for those of us who are actually “doing the work.”
Long before COVID lockdown overreactions were imposed upon us, the more libertarian-minded were already well aware of this dynamic, given our innate skepticism of regulation and observations of reality. Those of us subject to OSHA or the DOT or any number of “Health and Safety” managers have had to work around being treated like children or criminals as a matter of course.
In fact, one of the bright spots of COVID, at least for me, has been a reduction of in-person interactions with many of these management types. My company office hasn’t had a safety meeting in over a year, and I haven’t seen an area manager nor middle manager in the same time. And guess what? The work—the real work—still got done, and despite everything going on, our customers remained warm.
If we are going to have a collective discussion about “the working class,” it might be time to consider keeping these managers and enforcers away from us on a more permanent basis, given that they produce little of value and do not improve our lives in any way. In an economy made increasingly zero-sum by forces beyond our control, those in the “e-mail job” caste are literally taking money out of a pie which would be more deservedly enjoyed by the families who do the actual work.
Edgerton Essays feature the perspectives of working-class Americans on the challenges facing their communities and families and the debates central to the nation’s politics. If you or someone you know might be interested in contributing to the series, click here for more information.