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“She should be fired!”

September 8, 2014

I was at my office the other day, early on a Monday morning when everyone’s cranky. The cleaner was a bit late, since for some reason she cleans in the mornings before we all get in and this time she overran and we were all tripping over wires and having to call out to each other over the roar of a hoover. An annoying situation, but ultimately just one of those things.

A fact about our cleaner: she does an average job. A spot clean, the kind that working parents do in-between dinner time and bedtime. Then she races of, presumably to do a whole load of other jobs just like it in offices or houses across London.

This, and the lateness, annoyed my colleague to such an extent where she blithely said: “That cleaner should be fired.”

I thought about it. I wondered. She and I are white collar workers. If I had come in late a couple of times then rustled around loudly, and if I was a worse writer than her, would she be baying for my dismissal? I doubt it. We’re all surrounded on every side by equals who don’t do as well as us or work as hard. We often figure we’ll surpass them at some point on the career ladder. Principally because we have a career ladder. Look at the “Beat Phil” adverts, they sum up the mentality.

Our cleaning woman doesn’t have a ladder. The only direction she can go is down, off the bottom rung. If we figure she hasn’t done a good enough job, there’s no question of her simply getting stuck in one place, feeling frustrated and being forced to change her ways, or else her moving out of our circle as we climb the ladder and leave her behind. Wherever we go, we’ll have cleaners like her. They would need motivation, some reason to care in order to change. Unless she’s fired, she’s there in our circle, doing the same job at the same level with same quality for the rest of her working life.

There aren’t that many cleaners who do what is, in the minds of the people they work for and around, a good job. They always do an acceptable job, until the time comes when they do an unacceptable job. It is one of those tasks we expect, we take for granted, we never appreciate or value. We expect office space to be clean, and we think we need it spotless in order to do our oh-so-important work. So we demand cleanliness that we have not created ourselves, freedom from the mess we’ve made for ourselves, that everywhere else we would have to clean personally or pay to have cleaned out of our own pocket. Yet at work, we think of it as a right rather than a privilege, a right which if not provided by those contracted to provide it warrants Serious Punishment.

How did we get so callous? I’ve been a cleaner. It sucks. I wasn’t there three months before I quit, and quite suddenly, I might add. It’s the kind of work that never changes or gets better, never gets more rewarding or gets noticed. Quite the opposite, it feels as though you might as well not bother. Why would you clean a place spotless just to come in the next day to coffee stains everywhere? It’s not a job that moves us anywhere and it earns bugger all money. You can quickly switch from thinking “This is OK,” to “This sucks balls.”

I’m in awe of any person’s ability to keep it up, year by year, to support themselves and their family. I can’t conceive of such a thing and I doubt I’ll ever have to. Cleaning part time for a while was a Thing To Do while I was waiting to go to university and wanting to come off the dole. I didn’t have to be there – that would have changed the whole experience. Perhaps my perception of it as pointless, boring work would have to be re-examined, in order to make the days bearable.

Or, perhaps I’d hate every day. Do cleaners ever look happy? Not to my eyes, and I know first-hand why. The problem is, people who don’t look happy seem unapproachable, which makes them unknowable, which makes them dislikeable. They are vulnerable to the judgement of people who don’t know them but who have to see them every day and, be they people of higher aspirations, resent being reminded that there are some people in this world who have to grind to make a living.

It’s thankful, in a way, that my colleague is nothing but a junior office lackey. Our employer is rarely in the office, rarely sees the cleaner, rarely sees the place just after it’s been briskly cleaned, so never has to consider sacking the cleaner because the job’s been averagely done. An employer’s mercenary tactic of hiring whoever’s cheapest might save a lot of agro for someone unfortunate enough to have to do this depressing work every day, where you can’t possibly muster up the energy or enthusiasm to clean every nook and cranny as if you’ve never seen them before. It’s one of those examples where two not very positive things squash awkwardly together to create some slight silver lining.

I look forward to the day when the education standards of the world at large get to such a point where, regardless of the nationality of our workers, the idea that it’s anyone’s job to clean up other people’s shit becomes laughable. We can all take an hour out of the end of each day to clean up after ourselves and the saved money can go towards hiring another willing young professional.

That’s if that time comes before the uber-cleaning robots do. It’s looking unlikely.

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From → Leftism

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