I have seen Schindler's List
several times since it came out on video. The movie spends a bit of time, in the beginning, discussing what kind of person was considered an essential worker. In the movie, people are lined up to be selected for work. Men who had been professors, music teachers, architects, lawyers and other very specified and well educated professions, were now being told that their services would not be useful to those in power. The man who played Issac Stern (if I am misspelling it, tell me) ran fantically in and out of lines, forging paperwork for people he knew, convincing the men with the clipboards and approval stamps that these men were in fact essential workers.
This was, according to the film's portrayal, a main concern for the prisoners, who, at night, would exchange stories they had heard of other prisoners who had not been approved for hard labor. Women who overheard these stories would often not believe them, exclaiming, "Why would they want to kill us? We're their workforce." The more I repeat that phrase to myself, the more I think it was said as a mantra of hope mixed with denial. It denotes a refusal to be considered worthless and a conviction of shaky hope in merely saying the words. I am worth something. I am valuable because I can work.
Aside from making enough money to pay my bills and have a little for fun things, one of my job prerequisites is that my services are needed and appreciated. By that I do not mean that I demand and require adoration in a job to satisfy my ego. I simply want to feel that I am, even if only slightly, needed and appreciated, and this feeling can be had on any level of business, be it the service industry, the corporate office environment, or doing manual labor. It requires a lot from an employer, I would assume, to make his employees believe that they were indeed needed. It's always easier to not do anything to build up morale in a work environment than to gain people's trust in what you're saying.
I was hired there as a temp. The manager over me (who signed all my time sheets) wanted to hire me on full time on their salary, at a slight pay increase. Shortly after that, two interns were hired directly through the company for the summer, one of which is a daughter of an employee. Since she cannot legitimize having 3 assistants on the payroll, it has been decided that I would be left on the temp's pay rate for another month. This came as a major blow to me, partly because I cannot live off what I'm making right now and partly because it gave me the impression that my services were not essential. This was compounded by the effort on my manager's part to make a list of things to do while she was out of town for most of a week to keep me busy. Some people can handle or even prefer to have nothing to do or large pockets of idle time; I am not one of them. Besides, I can't really do nothing because all the other employees can see plainly that I have nothing to do. This makes my manager look bad in her decision to keep me (if I can wait out until August, the two interns will leave and I will likely be quite essential) and in turn, makes me look like I don't really care about this job (which I do; I rather like it). I am touched that my manager went to bat for me at whatever managerial meeting they had that delivered my verdict, but I am frustrated that she had to go up against so much.
I was the first one hired and the last to get on the company payroll. If I look for another job, I likely will not find a place that pays any more than this one, starting out, so there's no real point in leaving.
While she is away, I feel the eyes of the CEO on me. She had mentioned that the CFO and the CEO (which are both housed in our office in addition to programmers, designers, recruiting and hiring, which makes my office, according to my geek friends, a start-up(?) questioned if I was essential. Well, if you already had two other people lined up, why did you hire me? I don't get it. If you don't need me, then turn me loose. It's that sort of situation where those in power over you, even though they are in supreme power, do not have the ability to tell you directly that they have a problem with you; they have to go to your manager and bitch to him/her. I guess this is the middle management/corporate politic I had been, up to this point, kept from witnessing. And the you get told what so-and-so thinks of you and afterwards, you see so-and-so walking by and you have a sudden urge to strangle so-and-so for not having the balls to just say, "Hey if you want to keep answering the phones and greeting clients, you're going to have to wear something a notch up from khaki's and polo shirts, even though that's precisely what we told the temp agency would be acceptable. Sorry that we changed our minds mid-stream. Hey, did I get any mail this morning?"
I know. I know. Lot to ask for. Call it melodrama, call it what you want. People have told me that Americans work more hours per week and more weeks out of the year than their European counterparts. In turn, I think we also gain a sense of odd pride in our occupations. Some jobs are unsavory, others are demeaning, pay low and offer little insurance or assurance. Some are on a high scale, and many more are on a low scale, forming that all too familiar pyramid shape we've hated for decades. Higher education is playing a factor, kicking out more graduates that aren't always able to get hired into their field, even if they are more than qualified. Then there's people like me, whose shyness or inability to ascend but so many rungs above the counter-wax paper variety jobs to only end up on the lower rung of another system, another inessential worker.
"But no, I really do count. I am essential..."
All the way to debtor's prison and finally to my death...