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The binman

What would you do if you grew tired of a successful career as a salesman, earning lots of dosh as you persuade people to part with their readies for things they probably didn't want? Would you fake a smile and carry on, hating every minute of it but realising your suffering puts bread on your kids' table? Probably. One man in my home town did something else. He quit that job and became a dustbin man.

He is quite an energetic guy. He doesn't walk at all, he runs with the bins. Danish labour legislation has thankfully forbidden the old-style bins, without wheels, and law requires easy access to them for the binmen. No more busted backs or falling over gnomes. His fellow refuse workers tuns too. They get their job done in next to no time, which means our hero gets lots of hours for canoeing, his favourite hobby. He likes the outdoor life, the pace of the job, feels much happier, and is not concerned that his wage packet is smaller. Whilst it is a physically demanding job, he claimed the sales job was pretty demanding due to the mental tedium of waiting about for the next hard sell.

This little news story was one of those light relief space fillers we have grown accustomed to. However, it was by far the most interesting thing on the news that evening. It raises some intriguing points.

The reporter couldn't understand why someone would turn their back on a big wage placket and become, “of all things” a binman. Why should refuse work be deemed less worthy than salesmanship? Why should anyone have to be asked, and justify, why they want to be a binman? A bin in summer can have a nasty, ripe smell, and it is obvious that public health requires, amongst other things, a clean environment – nothing could be worse than your Nan being plagued by rats, after all. What useful social function does a salesman have? None really, if you think about it. Salesmen are out to sell a product. Once the product is sold, the outlays are paid for and a tidy, little sum is netted in profit for the product's pre-sale owner, who is probably wise enough to use another brand and who isn't the salesman. Salesmen are only necessary in capitalism.

A salesman is, or so it goes, more educated than a binman. There is a social stigma attached. Only Dumbo empties bins. (Our here is not a Dumbo of course.) It is a rotten snobbishness that overlooks a variety of things. The unemployed watching the news that night would jump at the chance to get a job. Perhaps some of them might be inspired to try a refuse job, even though the thought of rotting chicken and cat crap turns their stomachs. But then they could always change their job to salesmanship if they grow tired of bins, right? You see, what we want to do is pretty much irrelevant. You are employed only if you are exploitable. Jobs are plentiful in booms but come a slump you are put on the dole. You might get tons of papers from school, but does that mean you will get the job you want (and if you do, will the work conditions rapidly change your expectations); get a job; or even get educated? In any case schooling does not equate with education.

Hopefully our hero will continue to enjoy his job. Of course the Aarhus refuse workers' strike some five years ago reveals the true nature of work in capitalism. There is a ceaseless struggle between capitalists seeking to up the tempo of work and reduce wages (in these days of permanent inflation, all they need do is freeze wages and workers will feel the pinch) and workers seeking to get their own back (by smoking on the WC and stealing the bog roll) or organising to implore conditions and pay.

Work should not really be equated with employment. Work will be an essential part of life in socialism; it will be a part of the individual's development and a necessary, healthy expenditure of energy. Employment is wage labour (the ability to work is a commodity the workers are forced to sell – we are all “salesmen” in reality), commodity production instead of production solely for use. As such it has alienating factors associated with it; e.g. Monday to Friday is “their” time, whilst the weekend is your time, where you can enjoy working in the garden or painting. Employment is based on the division of labour. The upshot being workers are tied to one job for years on end, instead of being people able to do all kinds of things, which socialist society – run by conscious decisions instead of blind forces – will allow. (Of course it is a moot point as to how far the division of labour can be removed from socialism; not every one can have the steady hand and requisite knowledge of a surgeon.)

One of the strangest objections to socialism is “who will do the dirty work?” The man of this piece was not entirely motivated by cash. His sales job made him miserable; he loves his new job. We can speculate that there will be people willing to do dirty work in socialism. The hours required will be considerably reduced as the waste of unemployment and salesmanship, amongst many other occupations, will not exist in the moneyless, free access society of socialism; there will simply be more hands to do the unpleasant but necessary stuff. The objector is always a bit strange: “I don't want to live in a world without wear and starvation, and where my needs are satisfied, if it means I have to do dirty work once a week.” Socialism can do lots of things, but not make crap smell of roses; that is one little fact of life we'll have to put up with.