For those unfamiliar with the dialect of Tyneside, this is a common question members of North East Branch hear whilst out with the literature stall, whether it be in Jarrow Shopping Centre, at the Monument in Newcastle or a local political demonstration. Its translation is “Who will do the dirty work?” - meaning what incentive will there be to do dirty work in a communistic society if there are no wages or salaries and everything is free?
Well, it depends what you understand by ‘dirty work’. As a Socialist, what I look upon as dirty work is the killing carried out by the armed forces, or those whose job it is to destroy food in the knowledge that their fellows, thousands of miles away, might be dying for the want of it, or the duties of the bailiff who is sent into the home of a single parent with five kids because they’re months behind with the rent.
Such work is not what my opponents mean by ‘durty wark’. So I can press them:
“Oh, you mean the type of work where a man will go come in from his job, exhausted covered in mud, stinking of sweat, having endured a shift filled with endless insults from people urging him to work harder?”
“Aye,” comes the reply.
“You mean like a Newcastle United football player?”
“Nah, man! They make thousands.”
When this method of Socratic reasoning is pursued it is common to find that my critic is referring to the menial, droning, poorly paid and unpleasant jobs - money seemingly the determining factor. Of course, when asked if sewer work would be classed as ‘durty wark” if the sewer worker earned £100,000 a week, just like a Premier League player, the answer is a definite ‘no’. He’d be a ‘lucky bastard’, the envy of his friends.
The detractor asks who will sweep the streets? Well, even under capitalism street-cleaning vehicles operated by drivers are now in regular use and I would envisage that in socialism people will have a lot more respect for their surroundings when they feel valued and a part of something, and will thus be less likely to litter. And if we can land a man on the moon, does it really take that much more technology to put machines into sewers, operated from the surface?
Of course, in socialism, not everything will be mechanised. Spades, axes, sledge hammers, brushes and the like will still be in use as they are today. People use them today in their spare time, in their gardens, carrying out home improvements, doing charity work. Ask them and they will invariably confess that they enjoy using them, even though they are not to be paid for their toil. Many will say ‘there’s nowt better than a good and honest bit of graft’. Neither would they consider the work they do to be ‘durty wark.’ They’re happy to do it without pay, but the thought of doing it full-time for a minimum wage is unthinkable.
Thousands come home from hours of wage-slave drudgery and pass their spare time pursuing any one of a thousand hobbies, some demanding a lot of energy, patience and expense. None would consider, if asked, that their hobbies and leisure activities were work. They find these activities gratifying, rewarding and relaxing, an escape from the pressures of the office or the harassment of the shop-floor rate-setter with his stop-watch.
It is clear, then that dirty work only becomes ‘durty’ when it is carried out for a pittance of a wage, and set against the backdrop of say an eight-hour day. If a surgeon, standing many hours at a time in an operating theatre, his hands deep inside somebody’s bowels, or his fingers up a patient’s rectum, were to receive £4.50 an hour, the job would be considered degrading, pitiable, and ‘durty work’. Add a couple of noughts to that hourly figure and this is a respectable, worthy and enviable job.
Critics might derisively suggest that if we established a moneyless system of society, with free access to all goods and services, and no coercion, that people would become languid, preferring to ‘sit aroond on their arses all day.’ In truth very few, even today, take up such a lifestyle. Anybody who did would soon end up overweight and with deep vein thrombosis. Indeed, it is nigh on impossible to find a really lazy person, someone who will not exert themselves in any way. Those we find like this are either suffering from some severe physical disability or a psychological problem that induces in them a state of profound lethargy.
In socialism, there would be no ‘durty wark’, only work that ‘needs deeing’, useful toil, if you like. Menial jobs, in the sense of butlers and servants waiting on royalty and other sundry parasites would disappear. No one would be servile in a society in which all the good things in life are freely available.
We would also see the disappearance of countless millions of jobs that today only have a use in capitalist society, a world where buying, selling, exchange and competition, killing and coercion are the norm: bank clerks, supermarket check-out staff, accountants, police, soldiers, prison officers, munitions workers, ticket inspectors – the list is indeed a long one.
Take the above with recent suggestions by economists that within 20 years the total world demand for goods will be provided by 2% of the global work-force (and this is in a capitalist society) and it takes no bold leap of the imagination to picture socialism as a society in which each of us need only contribute to society a few hours of necessary work a week.
Who would then complain about going down a sewer for three hours on a Monday if it meant having the rest of the week free, to pursue their own interests or to travel? Would such workers feel their jobs were degrading if they knew that the money system had been abolished, that the criterion that had once served as the “dirty work” gauge was history, that a society of free access to the benefits of civilisation now existed, and that they were all cooperating freely and contributing to the common good?
‘Durty wark’ would become necessary work. Sewer work, cleaning and all those other unpleasant jobs that had hitherto attached to them negative connotations (in capitalism) would simply become work that needs to be done because society is dependent upon such work.
At present, if the sewers and streets are not cleaned, if bins are not emptied, because of strike activity by those employed in these occupations, disease can spread and the well-being of millions is endangered. If brain surgeons were to go on strike a few might die. Yet one worker is highly valued, the other held in low esteem, simply because of the money they earn.
And of course, in socialism, with increased chances of personal fulfilment in various fields, many could learn new abilities in their free time. A sewer worker may well study surgery a few days a week and a surgeon may well, after a his work for the day at the hospital is over, wish to volunteer his spare time carrying bricks or digging a garden - both happy in the knowledge that their species has cooperated to create a beautiful world, and that ‘durty wark’ is now history