Nonfiction, Top Stories

My Life Pouring Concrete

The ritual was to arrive at work half an hour early, so I could gradually wake up in the car listening to the radio, drinking coffee, and eating doughnuts. I’d park my Honda Fit beside the site foreman’s pick-up truck. His morning pre-shift was like mine, except that his breakfast was vodka-soda with painkillers. Another two labourers usually arrived after I did: an irritable six-foot-three indigenous guy called by everyone, including himself, the “BFI,” which stood for “Big F-cking Indian”; and a cocaine-addled Italian who split “a gram or two with the wife” nightly, pairing it with a three-litre bottle of red wine. He claimed to sleep only two hours, which I never doubted, since he had to commute an hour to get on site at 6am. Of my colleagues, only the BFI always worked sober, having survived years of alcoholism (not to mention some prison time).

At age 20, I’d started my first week in construction, excavating a commercial space for a liquor store. The dark pits of freshly-dug soil gave the air a musty sweetness that stuck in the back of the throat. We’d spend 12-hour days digging trenches in the subterranean dark, and then fill them up with concrete. The ready mix splashed onto my skin and made my eyes burn, while men yelled monosyllabic instructions over the din of engines. The air smelled of diesel, with notes of liquid metal thanks to the welders. On break, we made our way outside, the only time we saw the sun, to immediately contaminate the fresh air with a round of cigarettes. True to stereotype, not one woman escaped our gaze. They were something to look at that wasn’t steel, dirt, dust, or rock.

This is how some men spend the majority of their lives.

I say “men” because, in my chosen subspecialty of concrete (whose ranks include those formally designated in the United States under the category of “cement masons, concrete finishers, and terrazzo workers”), the work force is 98.9 percent male. According to 2018 data (collected well before the COVID-19 pandemic), the average annual salary is about $42,000, significantly less than the national average of $54,000. In this industry, 50 is considered old. And working past 60 is almost unheard of. Most of the men I worked with had little formal education. Many had a criminal record. Men working in construction and extraction have the highest suicide rate of any industry, as well as the highest rate of opioid addiction, and (predictably) overdoses. Alcoholism rates are second only to the mining industry. It’s a rough crowd doing hard work. So you can see why employers might have difficulty addressing their gender imbalance.

Men work construction jobs because they need the money. But they also take pride in their daily work product, and the more general fact that they build and fix the concrete world that we all need. There’s usually a strong work ethic on display, too, even if it doesn’t always manifest itself as what many of us would describe as professionalism per se.

To the extent construction workers are discussed at all in the media or popular culture, it’s usually by reference to stereotypically negative attributes, such as sexist leering, foul language, and substance abuse. Unless you are embedded in this world, you’ll miss the offsetting positive aspects, including the unspoken code that exists among most crews: (1) Do the best work you can, without creating more work for others; (2) don’t shirk the dirtiest or hardest task; (3) obey your direct boss, but remain suspicious of authority more generally, especially when it walks on to the site with clean hands and nice shoes. (Young engineers tend to be particular objects of scorn); (4) never rat. If someone’s alcohol or drug problem is out of hand, let the supervisor address it. If your colleague gets fired because you blew the whistle, you may lose something more precious than a job.

While doing interviews for this article, two unionized municipal construction workers told me, off the record, “There are only two rules with Percocet: One, never talk about perkies. Two, do you have any?” The high level of opioid use among construction workers arises from the need to alleviate pain. Many workers freely offer stories about past accidents and the ensuing surgeries. In other cases, it’s a case of repetitive stress and bodily wear and tear, including slipped disks and rotator-cuff issues. Opioids are especially helpful for contract labourers who don’t have union protection or job benefits. Without work, they have no money, so they rely on pills to stay on site.

Eventually, of course, avoidance of withdrawal symptoms becomes the dominant priority. And one friend of mine fell off the workforce when he could no longer find a steady supply of pills. The symptoms of sudden abstinence, which often start with vomiting and diarrhoea, can sometimes be life-threatening. To save a colleague from unemployment, and possibly from falling into a deadly spiral, a few men relinquished some of their own pills as an act of charity, knowing the roles could be reversed one day.

On the sites I worked, Percocet went for between $3 and $5 per 5mg dose. The more potent 80 mg OxyContins went for $80. (The active ingredient in both is oxycodone.) Labourers are rarely prescribed enough by their doctors to feed their addictions, and so they buy or trade amongst one another. Some spend upward of $500 per week, and have to enter into informal buy-and-sell agreements, somewhat comparable to stock options. One supervisor habitually secured a high volume of Percocets through his monthly prescription, and would sell a portion at the beginning of the month, with the understanding that he’d buy some back at an agreed upon price when his supply ran out. He did this to prevent himself from doing all his pills at once.

During my first four years of occasional construction work, from 2014 to 2018, almost 5,000 workers in this field died on the job in the United States. But those figures include only private-sector construction work, and exclude associated suicides, accidental overdoses, as well as traffic accidents while commuting to and from work. Even according to the lowest figures, the on-the-job fatal injury count for hardhats is higher than for any other occupation, mostly because of what’s sometimes referred to by the US Labor Department as the “fatal four”: falling, getting struck by an object, electrocutions, and “getting caught in (or in between) things.”

America’s most revered professions include emergency responders: police officers, firefighters, and paramedics. During the COVID-19 pandemic, health workers of all kinds have been properly showered with gratitude as well. In 2019, however, workers in these areas lost a combined 150 lives, about one-seventh the total deaths in construction in a typical year. Even America’s soldiers have suffered fewer absolute losses than construction workers in recent years.

Soldiers and first responders enjoy an elevated status because they work to protect us from obvious threats—foreign attack, terrorism, disease. If construction is done successfully, on the other hand, there is no threat (unless you count nature, which few do, since most of us now simply take protection from the elements for granted). In addition, it is assumed that soldiers and first responders choose their jobs, whereas labourers have merely accepted theirs with resignation, because they couldn’t find anything better.

Construction workers lack the aesthetic of heroes. George Orwell observed in The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) that the main reason the working classes, coal miners, in particular, were looked down upon was not because of some abstract quality such as mind or character, but because of the way they struck the senses of more refined observers:

It may not greatly matter if the average middle-class person is brought up to believe that the working classes are ignorant, lazy, drunken, boorish, and dishonest; it is when he is brought up to believe that they are dirty that the harm is done… And in my childhood, we were brought up to believe that they were dirty. Very early in life, you acquired the idea that there was something subtly repulsive about a working-class body; you would not get nearer to it than you could help.

Orwell’s view is somewhat dated, of course. Mines and other industrial facilities now require fewer workers, and are more dependent on highly skilled technicians to operate the machines that do most of the work. In our post-industrial world, moreover, hipsters now have become enamored with certain kinds of blue-collar work. But these infatuations tend to focus on artisanal subcultures, such as fine woodworking, custom-made bicycles, or craft cideries. Day-to-day construction work doesn’t qualify: I’ve yet to encounter an ambitious student who dreams of tying rebar or pouring concrete. In fact, the lifestyle is sometimes similar to one that Orwell might recognize. There were some weeks when, after dawn-to-dusk shifts, I would climb into bed without showering, in my dirty and smelly workwear, from sheer exhaustion, and for the convenience of not having to change in the morning.

Scene from Total Recall

In fiction, labourers have been featured prominently in niches such as communist proletariat literature and gay romance. Though neither present any kind of realistic image of working life. On television, arguably the most popular show with a blue-collar construction theme is the children’s cartoon, Bob the Builder (which portrays the life of a building contractor with the same level of accuracy as an anthropologist might find in a plotline from Dora the Explorer). On the silver screen, similarly, we got Emmet from The Lego Movie in 2014. One of the few memorable construction-worker heroes in a Hollywood movie aimed at adults was Douglas Quaid, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall. The 1990 movie had been adapted from Philip K Dick’s novel, We Can Remember It for You Wholesale (1966), whose protagonist was an office clerk. It was only because of Schwarzenegger’s physique that a blue-collar back story was substituted.

In music, there was once a fashion for socialist propaganda songs, including those produced by the Wobblies, short-hand for the International Workers of the World Union. Perhaps the most famous was Joe Hill’s The Preacher and The Slave (1911). As consolation for their meager rations and impoverished lives, a preacher assures workers, they’ll get food in heaven—which is how we got the expression “pie in the sky”:

Long-haired preachers come out every night
Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right
But when asked about something to eat
They will answer in voices so sweet
You will eat, you will eat, by and by
In that glorious land in the sky, way up high
Work and pray, live on hay
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die, that’s a lie

(In Animal Farm, Orwell borrowed a similar concept, with Moses the crow encouraging farm animals to ignore their agonies on Earth and instead imagine the pleasures to be enjoyed in the great beyond, a land that he promised was real, and which he called “Sugarcandy Mountain.”)

The revival of Zionism in the 19th century provides one notable cultural genre in which the common labourer received heroic treatment in a way that transcended merely socialist tropes. This included the so-called Muscular Judaism movement presented by Zionist leader Max Nordau as an answer to caricature of Jews as meek and cowardly parasites who got by on guile instead of effort. Long before the rise of the Nazi menace, he argued in a 1903 article (Muskeljudentum, “Jewry of Muscle”) that physical strength was essential to enable Jews both to combat anti-Semitic prejudice and develop a revived national identity. He called on the diaspora to “let us once more become deep-chested, sturdy, sharp-eyed men.”

A second influence was Avoda Ivrit, or “Hebrew Labour,” which had a mystical element. Championed by Zionist ideologue A. D. Gordon, this movement held that Jewish immersion in the holy land could be properly achieved only through manual work. Of course, these labourers were not like the modern wage-earners I’ve written about here. These were self-sustaining agrarians who channeled their efforts into an explicitly nationalistic, collective project. However, Israel’s founding fathers did at least give workers their proper due alongside other callings.

A few years ago, while walking with a friend who had worked alongside me at the same construction company, we saw a car veer off the road and smash through the wall of a convenience store. Working a few blocks away, members of a construction crew heard the accident and sprinted over. They pulled the female driver out of her smoking car and laid her out on the sidewalk. These were the only people to help before the ambulance arrived, while the other, more “respectable,” bystanders held up their phones to record everything. My friend reflected, “It makes me proud to have worked construction.”

This sentimental bit of camaraderie stuck with me, but only until the next day. Back on site, a co-worker noticed a girl across the street while we were on break. He shouted my way, “I’d f–ck the hole off of her.” If anyone had been filming him, it’s a scene that would have gone viral among those with clean hands and nice shoes. In Orwell’s day, the privileged set had to get up close and personal to develop their disdain for the working class. These days, thanks to Twitter, they can do it without getting out of bed.

 

Michael Humeniuk is a former construction worker.

 

Comments

  1. I have bad news for the young man who poured concrete, working outside, with a crew, making an honest days work, sleeping like a lamb at night, with nice muscled tone and a healthy appetite:

    There are only two types of jobs. One is outside working with ones hands. The other sits at a desk all day long. Construction work is as good as it gets.

    Office jobs always come with office politics, some pissed off fat office manager who’s been there 30 years, a younger boss with the correct skin color and the correct body parts, an environment of dog eat dog frenemies, and an air conditioning system that spreads mold spores is the alternative. Choose carefully, or a life of weight gain and a poor nights sleep…awaits him.

    Vodka for Joe, Scotch for Joseph. Alcohol doesnt care which path one chooses.
    And that chick you guys whistled at? That was a dude.

    I am always looking for good concrete foremen. Mostly curb and gutter work, repairing the roads we excavate. Willing to train on excavators and loaders. Starting pay $40/hr and $72/hr union jobs. SoCal coastal. Must speak Spanish. :slight_smile:

  2. Interesting read and for me, timely. Just started reading the book, “Blue Collar Cash”- by Ken Rusk. The author made his fortune in various construction trades and the premise of the book is the money to be made in trades that don’t require a college degree.

    My history blends a father who made a fortune in construction vs. my own niche within the halls of corporate America. Observing the different pros and cons of both over several decades I can honestly say one is not better than the other and like all things, it will depend on the person pursuing the line of work.

    But, without question I am 100% convinced that the push of the past 40yrs to funnel everyone into college was a major error in judgement. Today, given the overblown prices of education, going to college is no different than deciding to open a business. The same rigorous analysis of risk/reward and potential payoff should be applied.

    To illustrate, here is an example. Went to a local aquarium and saw a title I had never seen before, “Aquarist”. I figured this was a certification one would naturally pursue to work at an aquarium and take care of the tanks, environments and the animals living within them. But, I was way off. In fact, most have a four year degree in fields like marine biology or zoology. But here is the rub, the average starting salary is $22k/yr. So, you are asking someone to spend between $40k and $100k over four years so they can come out making $22k/yr? Worse, the median salary for experienced Aquarists is $51k. Most construction fields will pay this as well. Now you might argue one is more fun or engaging than the other but how long will it take to payoff the student loans?

    I especially like it when someone tells me they have a degree in ‘gender studies’ or other such ‘studies’. I don’t embarrass them by asking what they thought that would do for the. In the world of work but I think it points to something amiss in our vocational counseling fields…

  3. Oddly enough I spent today filling cinder block cores with rebar and construction grout, I will sleep tonight, and when I wake tomorrow never speak of this again. Ever!

  4. Enjoyable read - thanks Michael! I’ve always found the gulf between white collar workers (like myself) and blue collar workers (family members and friends) fascinating. Sometimes the interactions I’ve had with (or been told about) the latter are so far removed from my day-to-day life that I wonder whether an entirely different ‘tradie’ culture has developed independently of the ‘professional’ one that dominates discussion.

    I find it sad that these communities are routinely ignored by the commentariat, either as being distinterested in the issues of the moment, or worse, that they’re the groups actively preventing the utopian ‘progress’ our society requires. Perhaps it’s the more coarse behaviour exhibited by many tradies, or the (not untrue) belief that your average tradie is unlikely to be the ‘intellectual’ sparring partner to talk about ideology or philosophy. But if these are the reasons for excluding this group from political, social or ethical discussion, then this is gross hypocrisy.

    Many of the people who dismiss what tradies have to say (on the basis that they are stupid or incoherent or just ‘wrong’) would simultaneously rage at the exclusion of other marginalised groups on the basis of not being very good at articulating their views on these topics. What’s the difference between the two groups? In terms of being left out of the ‘debate’, not much. I suspect the only real difference is that, if you view the world through the lens of critical theory, marginalised groups are more oppressed, while tradies are not.

    A tradie who happens to be from a minority background ‘earns’ the right to speak up because of his or her immutable characteristics, not their occupation or class. If you’re a white, male blue collar worker though, you apparently share the same ‘privilege’ as a wealthy white male CEO, and so your views can be rejected without any further consideration by the (almost certainly wealthy and white) activists, academics or communicators who arbitrate the rules for discussion.

    Blue collar workers may never really come to the table the way other groups do, but I certainly think there needs to be more effort to not only open the doors for willing participants to express their views, but to also implement some of the suggestions they make. A tradie might not be a Rhodes Scholar, but that doesn’t mean they’re an idiot.

  5. This is a great article, thanks Michael. When I was in my 20s, back in the 70s, I was a union construction laborer. Puddled concrete, tended brick and block and whatever else needed to be done on commercial construction sites. You brought back memories for me and have accurately captured that world and men who inhabit that world. It is unchanged except for the drugs used.
    I quit when I was 25 and went back to school. I can’t imagine doing that work in your 40s or older. A few guys I worked with stayed in the business, I don’t know how they do it.
    Jim

  6. Some love for the tradies - great! I married one. He worked in oil and gas in Canada and construction/maintenance/demolition in Australia. Coke was common in Canada because wages were better, but alcohol and weed has been omnipresent among all his coworkers at every job in both countries. Weed is cheaper and less addictive than opioids so it makes sense it would be common. As far as I know none of my husband’s coworkers have been into opioids.

  7. I appreciate this one. Good job, Mr. Humeniuk. Let me add a little something from my stint at a warehouse. It was a mixed race crew, and racial stereotypes and banter were a stock in trade. It’s a bit like hazing, an entry into the fraternity. One has to take the ribbing, and more importantly, give it back good and hard. Then you’ll get guffaws and a slap on the back, an arm around your shoulder. Then you are one of us.

    I never for a single moment had a single doubt every one of those guys would have my back instantly in a fight. Our Jewish manager----one of those “muscular Jewry” types, tough as nails----treated the whole crew like family. You could talk to him about anything.

    The other point I would reaffirm is, at crunch time which was Wednesdays and Thursdays at this particular operation, the whole place fell quiet. All the bantering, the gossiping about who likes which of the office girls, the latest baseball or the latest football, the ethnic jokes about whose farts smell of garlic or curry, all this sort of thing fell quiet.

    Everyone had the game face on, cranking out the work like a well oiled machine. The radio, always on in the background, now dominated the soundscape. Every now and then a question, or an instruction would be shouted out related to work. This hum would last until the last truck was on the road. There was a short lull, as if everyone needed a moment to catch their breath. Then the bantering and fooling around would return.

    Getting the job done, making the customer happy: everyone understood this to be the point, the money.

  8. Oh my God, so much toxic masculinity.

  9. Not to mention White Privilege. These deplorables suppose that a wrecked back hurts. No, what hurts is having endured a mirco-aggression.

  10. Great article based on actual “lived experience”. As I read it, I was reminded of DH Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, a semi-autobiographical novel that examines Lawrence’s experiences growing up in a household where his coal miner father laboured to put food on the table of his wife and son, and was despised for his dirty hands and clothes by the woman whom he slaved to support. She was more than willing to accept his paycheque, but not his love, because she felt betrayed and humiliated by his low status.

    And this is the basis for female privilege: men doing the dirty, dangerous labour upon which civilization depends while women gain the fruits of their labour while complaining about “male privilege”, while demanding to be made CEO’s in the interests of “equality”, while complaining about double standards.

    The reality is that it is the labour of men, men paid low wages while they suffer in poor working conditions, that allows privileged women in academia and the media to revile them for their “toxic masculinity”. Meanwhile, 90% of those who die from opioid overdoses, usually as a consequence of dealing with the pain caused by those jobs, are men. In fact, men make up the majority of the homeless, 75% of suicides, and over 90% of those harmed in industrial accidents. But men are the expendable gender, cannon fodder in both war and peace, fed into the maw of the industrial machine to create the pleasant conditions in which females work.

    Here in Canada feminist groups are now decrying the “sexism” of the fact that females have been laid off by the pandemic at a greater rate than men- by 2.8%. They are calling for special programs to target women to help them financially rather than just helping out everyone laid off by the consequences of covid. In the 2008 financial crisis, in contrast, 60% of those laid off were men. But there were no special programs to help them. Instead, they were mocked as redundant, dinosaurs who deserved their fate.

    This raises the question: at what point are men going to respond to this systemic misandry? I suggest we begin by interrogating the social conditions that allow this injustice to continue. Articles such as this one are the beginning of that process.

  11. My working life for the last 50 years has been an alternating round of university education, blue collar labor, and teaching in the inner city. I’ve worked in farm fields, print shops, oil refineries, construction, driven mass transit. Half my 20’s,30’s, 40’s. Lots of hard, dirty, sweaty, deadening work— what made it satisfying was the people. Michael captures the code of shared effort and quiet pride well. It cuts across race and gender, much as in the military. On the job, the take on politics was mostly cynical (couldn’t begin to count the number of times I’d stand up, look at my buddy, and shout, “Vive la revolucion!”) Half my circle of acquaintance (almost all college graduates) in my nearby university town do blue collar work— many after having left an office or professional job. But I realized soon enough in construction that every day I used up more of my body, had little in the way of health and retirement security, and — what I hated most— was one day closer to being unemployed and having to find more work. I took a job teaching history, English language and literature, and economics to “at risk” kids. And giving them life advice from my own experience. Hard work. Challenging. Lots of patience and self-control required. Satisfactions guaranteed.
    When I retired from teaching 7 years ago, I split time between the golf course and my deck, reading for hours. My game’s pretty good, my library’s overflowing, and 3 years ago I bought a hundred year old wreck of a great house because I needed something more to do. Every week I work 4-5 half-days, do most everything myself except electrical and big plumbing, still hit the course 2-3 times a week, read til I fall asleep (8 hrs. a night). Last week I built bookshelves (they look really good); this week, with cooler weather, I’ll start the wraparound deck (and track down that damned water leak between the upstairs laundry and kitchen), next week I’ll probably put in another sump pit with my new jackhammer. And sort and shelve books, setting 3-4 aside for reading over the next month. (Tuchman, Murray, Shapiro, and Bellow currently.) The 400 foot of 6’ grey post-and-white picket fence I put in last summer (2 large dogs) is still getting compliments from neighbors and people I don’t even know (2 5th grade boys are finishing the painting 3 hrs a week for money to buy video games). Apart from the aesthetic pleasure I get from looking at my best work, and the gratification that comes with well- solving a pretty knotty problem, the only thing more gratifying than those compliments is the smile I get when I run into one of my former students.

  12. Where to begin? Dismissing the real pain and suffering of other human beings as a “victim mentality” is not a good look, and rather makes my point about female privilege. Nor did I argue that “all men” are construction workers, only that the ones who are experience pain and suffering to put food on the table for their wives and kids.

    You know: patriarchal oppression.

    As for whether they chose that life, you’d have to ask them. But the reality is that it is men who are the ones, historically, who suffered and often died to protect and provide for women and children, whether they had any choice or not. Have I lived with anyone in the building industry? I worked as a carpenter’s assistant at 15, and as a worker in the grain industry to pay my way through university. Most of the guys had little education, but accepted their lot because they had been socialized to think they had to support their wives and kids, just as many females worked at low-end jobs to do the same, my mom included. But as the writer said, 98% of workers in dangerous, dirty jobs are men.

    Your response actually comes from a place of privilege and entitlement, rationalizing male pain and death because it’s easier than confronting the reality of male suffering. Why do you think they take the opioids? I’m reminded of Hilary Clinton’s absurd comment that women are the real victims of war “because they lose their sons and brothers.” Apparently female emotional pain trumps men’s deaths.

    From your perspective, how should we respond to 50 years of feminist complaints about sexism? Also victim mentality?

    And no, we didn’t evolve to sit around in air conditioned offices. But we certainly didn’t evolve to pour concrete either. But if given the choice…

  13. I worked on a concrete crew for two summers while at university. I would say that that period of time taught me as much as any two semesters. And I can still see the work I did almost 40 years ago. I can’t say the same for the teaching I received.

    The concrete crew had every type, from philosophers to scoundrels, from conservatives to libertines. But if there was one quality they shared in common it was genuineness. There was very little artifice. They all knew who they were and they all knew I was passing through. Yet they treated me as more or less equal, in part, I believe, because I accepted my role as low man and tried to work cheerfully.

    After having spent over 30 years in the legal profession, I yearn for direct people like the people I worked with on the crew. I still remember all of them while the other day I was on an alumni Zoom call for my law school and I couldn’t recall most of them.

    Elites are shockingly dishonest people; they are twisted up in so many lies and obfuscations that they can’t even be honest with themselves. If they were honest - and they are not - they would have to acknowledge that they are no different than the concrete crew members. As GK Chesterton once observed, the only difference between rich people and poor people is that rich people have more money. Their addictions are different and their lives messed up in different ways, but they are no better.

  14. It seems as though, in your way of thinking, there is very little space between men calling out unfairness and “victim mentality”. Is it unfair that men predominantly take on hard manual jobs? No, of course not. But it is unfair that “polite society” tends to, increasingly, perceive these men as lower class and perennially sweep their economic and health concerns under the carpet, stigmatizing their employment concerns as white nationalism or racism?

    You advise men to not “play their game” which is fine advice, to a point. But we all know the conversation has been very one-sided for decades. How long would you expect a good, honest, hard-working man to entertain the constant complaints of an ungrateful spouse? Should the same not apply to a society, half of which, is comprised of men?

    I believe @DoctorR makes some good points. I spent 13 years in construction and here are some observations:

    You’re correct - however, close to 100% of all hard, heavy, dangerous manual jobs are done by men.

    In my experience, some do and a whole lot do not. I am most acquainted with the cabinet and custom furniture business, where it isn’t unusual for a 20 year veteran of the trade to earn a piddling $25/hour. All the guys I worked with over the years were highly skilled and hard workers. But they could hardly make ends meet, their cars were always in the shop, they had bad backs, and they all had stories about lost opportunities of years gone by. Nobody wants that kind of life if they can, in any way, avoid it.

    It’s complicated. If I could earn a livable wage making cabinets and high-end furniture, there’s a big part of me that would like to return to that trade. But if I have to sweat all day, go home dog tired every night, fight with my wife over financial burdens, nurse a chronically aching back and knees, all while wondering if my job might be undercut tomorrow by some product from China or laborers from south of the border…I’ve lost little nobility in saying, “Screw all of that”.

    You might be surprised how many of these guys, once a wife and baby entered the picture, gave up whatever choices they did have in favor of family and, quite often, offering their wives more career choices. I stand by my observation in another thread that, within the context of marriage, women almost always have more choices.

    Look, I’m not here to write a sob story for construction workers. They don’t need it or want it. Western society used to lionize these men - the guys who built the dams, bridges, interstate highways, skyscrapers - the stuff of our once great infrastructure. But over the years we’ve seen the elites and chattering class denigrate not only their work but also their character, with “toxic masculinity” recently bringing a whole new level of spiteful derision to the whole affair. And the longer this perverse line of thinking continues, the more it seeps into the general public. Opiate addiction is not just a symptom of physical pain, it’s a symptom of perceived uselessness brought about by the very ingratitude that @DoctorR described. Hell, these guys don’t even want gratitude - but they don’t want to be told, with ever increasing feverishness, that their entire constitution is shit that should be excised from society.

  15. It’s great to read about experiences in work and work culture from outside the Universities and Media…nothing against either profession, but sometimes theirs are the only voices heard.
    I’m from working class, Dad welder, Mom LPN, brother lays gorgeous wood floors (everywhere BUT my house). With my wandering work life starting with waiting tables in a truck stop at 14; to college and MS degree with kids half my age, am now working with folks who abused drugs and/or hadve mental health problems, and physical problems, and money problems, and who may be homeless because they turned to heroin when their pills were just stopped. My first five years, most of the folks who came in worked construction, or in farming/ranching and had knees, shoulders, backs that were SHOT at age 50, as noted n the article.
    Having worked more recently in Academic settings, I can safely say both have advantages and disadvantages, and the universities didn’t get weird until about 9 years ago with the ‘safe space’ rainbow sticker I refused to put on my door (open to anyone).
    There are social strains – It is hard at family gatherings - in my husband’s family I have the lowest degree - in mine his is highest…sometimes awkward to find topics in common --happily all are same political party…so far. THANK YOU FOR THE ARTICLE, I’m sharing with my naive Counseling Students who haven’t had this kind of brother, friend, personal life experience up close, think it will help them understand a very different type of life a little better.

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