1950s >> 1953 >> no-592-december-1953

Who Will Do The Dirty Work?

One of the common questions put to the Socialist, and a question that troubles many who are sympathetic to Socialism, is “Who will do the dirty work under Socialism”; that is who will be coalminers, sewermen, dustmen and the like. The question is based upon the assumptions that there is work that is dirty, that this work will always have to be done in the way it is done today, and that it is only done today because the doers of it are forced to do it in order to get a living.


Before answering the question let us look at the subject a little closer. First of all let us see if we can define what is meant by dirty work.


Is it handling dirt? A doctor and a sanitary engineer handle a considerable amount of dirt with the object of preventing the spread of disease—so does a sewerman, a dustman and a sweeper. Think of the work doctors and nurses do not only at home but in plague and disease-ridden areas, the horrible conditions in which they have to work and the horrible work they have to do. Yet no one suggests that a doctor does dirty work but most people are convinced that the sewerman, the dustman and the sweeper does do dirty work. Why?


Is dirty work that which makes a man dirty? A motor engineer gets dirty with the object of ensuring the smooth running of machinery—so does a stoker in the bowels of a ship. Yet whilst no one suggests the one is doing dirty work they accept that the other is. Why?


Is dirty work working amongst foul smelling material? A chemist does so with the object of improving the quality of food—so does a fish curer. Yet the latter is doing dirty work and the former is not. Why?


Is it the nature of the work itself that makes it dirty work? A bacteriologist works among decayed food with the object of improving hygiene—so does a dishwasher in a restaurant Yet again one is dirty work whilst the other is not. Why?


Is work that injures your fellow men that which is dirty? If that were true just think who would come under it! Soldiers, producers of poison gas, munition workers, producers of atom bombs, politicians, monopolists (including Governments), lawyers who defend the predatory, financiers, advertisers who take in the innocent, those who tell fairy tales about heaven and hell and tell children they must believe them or be damned for all eternity, and hosts of others who immerse themselves in the dirt of Capitalism. Yet who but the socialist would claim that these people are doing dirty work? Why?


Fine gentlemen and dainty ladies move happily amidst the odours and the manure of racing stables without any feeling that they are doing dirty work, but they would be astonished at the suggestion that it was not dirty work to shift that manure. Why?
An airman risks his life and gets coveted in oil and grease breaking a record and he is treated as a hero. A coalminer risks his life and gets covered in coaldust bringing coal to the surface for the good of mankind and he is treated as doing dirty work! Why?


Now that we have cleared the ground a bit let us answer the “ Whys? ”


“Dirty work” has nothing to do with the work itself or the dirtiness thereof. A man will shift manure on to his garden and his friends will look on admiringly and proffer advice; but if he shifts manure for a living it is quite a different matter. It is not just “menial” work for what is more menial than the politician kissing babies and smirking at their mother, the shopkeeper fawning on his customers, the financier kow-towing to the lenders of money, or the clergyman accepting a tip at a funeral? No! Generally speaking the work that is looked upon as “dirty work” is that which is laborious, ill-paid, offers no opportunities for the ambitious, and provides the only opening the less fortunate can find of earning a living. People of all kinds of social status willingly do the same kind of work when the aim is satisfaction, pleasure or prestige; it only becomes dirty when it has to be done for no other end than gaining a living. The term is tied up with wage slavery and those that perform this work are by that fact branded as lower than their fellows. In other words dirty work is solely a product of Capitalism because it leaves the worker where he is, tied to the tread mill of monotonous labour with faint hope of relief. The phrase has only a disparaging social significance; a significance that at one time in the past applied to all forms of labour. Thus with the passing of wage-slavery the phrase will have no meaning.

We can now answer the question by placing it in its proper perspective in the light of the foregoing remarks.


Under Socialism no work that is necessary for the good of mankind will come under the heading of dirty work. People will do it as wholeheartedly as doctors and nurses work today in battle and plague-stricken areas. When industrial areas, cities and swamps have been cleared; when people can live wholesome and healthy lives with plenty of fresh clean air; when the rush and tear of life has departed, then most of what is regarded as dirty today will have disappeared. Quite apart from this, when all the people stand upon an equal footing towards each other the snobbery that attaches a label of nastiness to some forms of human activity will disappear; no one will be afraid of his neighbour looking with scorn upon the work he is doing. Finally nobody objects to doing work that is dirty when he knows that it is necessary in order to obtain some desirable end, that he can clean himself afterwards, that he is not bound to do it all his working days, and that no stigma attaches to it.


The answer to the question then is a simple one. Under Socialism everyone will take part in all the necessary social work and no one will worry a bit.