New Philosopher

Bad attitude

Studs Terkel, the great oral historian, begins his definitive book on working life in 1970s America with Mike Lefevre, a 37-year-old labourer in a steel mill near Chicago. Lefevre describes himself as a mule, doing “strictly muscle work”. When a foreman criticises Lefevre’s “bad attitude”, the labourer responds, “my attitude is that I don’t get excited about my job… How are you gonna get excited about pullin’ steel?”

Why is it so hard for Lefevre to find purpose in “pullin’ steel”? Is it because he is doing what economists would call ‘unskilled labour’ – work that has no or very minimal education requirements? Perhaps some work is so repetitive, so

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