The tension between working classes: Blue Collar vs. White Collar

This post on Charlie’s Blog about blue collar jobs versus white collar jobs got me thinking (I love that!) about working classes and the stereotypes.

Somewhere in a high rise office is an executive.

He quaffs a Scotch and loosens his tie. He has risen far in the company, but he can’t tell you exactly what it is that he does.

He doesn’t know from one day to the next if he will be promoted, forgotten, or terminated. All his coworkers are enemies looking to plunge a dagger in his back at the first opportunity. He maintains the facade, but he hates his job. The perks are nice, but he realizes they are merely sugar on shit.

He gazes at a building under construction and sees iron workers putting together rebar.

They don’t even make a third of what he makes, but he envies them. Without men such as this, his office would not exist. There would be no chair to sit in or desk to write on. It is men such as these that make the world work.

They make the world livable. They deal with iron and concrete. What they do matters.

His PowerPoint from a month ago is now ancient corporate history. The company is paying a consulting outfit $250K to help craft a new mission statement. 250 smackers to write a goddamn sentence. Madness.

The above rant of Charlie’s is very Office Space when Ron (at the end) finally ends up getting an “honest” construction job where he just clocks in his time, works, comes home, has a beer and relaxes.

Compared to his other white collar former colleagues, they’re stuck in an office, stressed out, working on weekends and trying to figure out a stupid printer’s settings.

In case you are unfamiliar with the terms:

Blue Collar: Manual Labour

  • Line cooks
  • Construction workers
  • Street sweepers
  • Mechanics
  • Repairmen
  • Cleaners (maids, office cleaners)
  • Factory workers
  • Plumbers
  • Electricians

White Collar: Salaried Professionals

  • Office dwellers
  • Accountants
  • Bankers
  • Consultants
  • Teachers

By all rights, I am in the white collar category as a consultant, but that doesn’t mean I look down on blue collar workers, the way some might expect.

I just happen to like doing what I do, and it is classified as “white collar” work.

I have a great respect for people on the front line (the blue collar jobs), and just recently I had a conversation with a colleague that went like this:

FB: Well it’s just frustrating that I can’t get the information I need from them [factory workers]. I need those stats.

Colleague: *whispers* Well they’re blue collar workers, so you know, they aren’t professionals. You can’t expect too much out of them.

FB: *blinks* Well I think it’s just a question of them not knowing how to get the information, seeing as it isn’t readily available. I mean, they don’t time themselves or record that stuff, so they can’t give me what’s not there.

Colleague: That’s what I mean. They weren’t bright enough to even record that stuff in the first place.

FB: How could they have guessed? Never mind. I’ll find the info another way.

If you weren’t taught how to do something like fix a car, you wouldn’t be expected to know how to do it off the bat!

So why would you expect someone to know o record what bits of information seeing as they don’t know what someone in my job might need?

I couldn’t do their jobs — manual labour that is. Putting cars together on the line is no easy task. I saw how hard they grunt and sweat, and at the end they can see a row of shiny cars for their efforts.

SO WHY DO BLUE COLLAR JOBS GET A BAD RAP?

Because it’s manual labour. People think that working on a spreadsheet is far better than working on a machine as a job.

They think they make more money than someone getting dirty and fixing a car, and it is more ‘prestigious’ to say you work at So-and-So, than saying you’re a mechanic.

This is where I have a story: I know a woman who cleans stores at night and makes $150,000 a year.

She works for 3-4 hours of the 8 that she is there, and she isn’t let out of the store until the next morning by the manager.

By all rights, she’s a blue collar worker, but the difference between her and some of my friends with fancy titles is:

  • she loves her job — she actually gets a kick out of cleaning
  • she works by the job, not by the hour, so if it takes 4 hours, it takes 4 hours
  • she makes double what my analyst friends make

Blue collar jobs are seen as dirty, disgusting and unattractive to white collar workers… but there can be a lot of satisfaction in doing a basic task with your hands.

I like to cook, so seeing (and eating!) the end result is satisfying, so I can understand when you fix up an old car to make it run, how satisfying it must be to hear the purr.

SIMILARLY, WHY DO WHITE COLLAR JOBS GET A BAD RAP?

White collar jobs are seen as lifeless, dull, drone-like sets of tasks and responsibilities.

  • Clean up that spreadsheet.
  • Make a powerpoint presentation.
  • Go through these numbers and find a trend.

“Yawn”, right?

Where I think white collar jobs get a bad rap from blue collar workers who thinks that they don’t do anything. The spreadsheets, the organization, the presentations for a mission statement for a company — it all seems like fluffy BS, doesn’t it?

This is where I think my bias comes in.

What I do matters, even if I don’t deal in iron and concrete.

I think that as a white collar worker, I can see that if I didn’t organize statistics into spreadsheets, the factory workers would never know that they were wasting 15% of their raw materials just by not having the right timing down for the factory to run at an optimal speed.

Or that they can shave an hour off their workday just by having a process to enter information in an efficient manner, as not to waste time re-calculating and erasing numbers to get to the end result.

What I do can have a real impact on the front lines. Not always, but sometimes it makes their lives so much easier.

Someone in accounting would set up analyses and have presentations to say “Yes, go ahead with building that new factory, it is worth it“, and then blue collar workers come in with their iron and concrete.

If they said “No, wait a year or two, or never“, there would be no building. No blue collared workers. No jobs. No work.

Everything is intertwined, and no one job can say that one or another is worthless or not as “real”.

There is a lot of merit in white collar jobs, and I have never felt like I don’t do anything, although I have said to myself: I can’t believe I get paid to do this! :D

This is all because I love my job and I’m good at it. I’m passionate about seeing things done right, saving people time and money and helping them do their jobs better on the front line.

It can be easy to brush off a mission statement, but sometimes remembering why you started a company can help bring your future vision back on the right track so you make the right decisions and can create more jobs for both white and blue collared workers.

Blue collared jobs do the work on the front line, and without them, there is no company. They do the work, they get the job done, and they are the ones who are considered ‘valuable resources’.

White collared jobs create and improve blue collared jobs. The more a company sells, the more money it has, and the more people they can hire to expand the business. You also need white collared workers to keep a company running — accounting, selling, buying, organizing projects, hiring resources; there is a lot more to a working company than just the job itself or the building it’s in.

It is very symbiotic, not parasitic.

Without one, the other doesn’t exist.

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.