If there’s one word – or two, or one with a hyphen – that sums up every political message right now, it’s hardworking (or hard working, or hard-working).
We must be hardworking. Labour exists to help hardworking people. The Conservative Party wants to help hard working people enjoy their deserved fruits of their hard work. The Lib Dems, well they probably go on about hard-working families, but I’ve not really bothered reading anything by them. Something about hard work though. They’re all at it. We’re all at it. Hard work. We’re hardworking. We’re working hard.
It’s the ‘hard’ part that deserves a little more attention. I don’t think I’ve always worked hard, or especially well. If anything, I found the few desperate, dismal months when I was unemployed a lot more hard than work. Not having a job is hard. Not being able to work is hard. Not knowing whether you’ve got any work next week or not is hard. Not knowing whether you’ll have enough money from the work you may or may not do is hard. That’s all hard. Work, in comparison, isn’t hard. Though perhaps that’s not the sort of ‘hard’ we’re looking at.
It makes a bit of a fetish out of grinding yourself into the dust nine to five every day for a fortnight in Butlins with the kids every couple of years. You must work ‘hard’ or you’re not working at all. You can’t just coast along for 20 years, waiting for the carriage clock, though those days are long since distant memories for most of us; you must work HARD. If you don’t work hard, you’re not working properly. If you’re not working hard, you’re not working right.
Who governs for those of us who phone it in every day? Who is there to make laws on behalf of those people who don’t give a monkey’s about their jobs, their careers, their employers or their colleagues? Who stands up and says yes, we represent working people – people who just turn up on Monday morning with a raging hangover, wake up on Tuesday thinking “oh god, not this again”, feel a bit better about things on Wednesday and see Thursday as a blessed relief before the slow descent into Friday and, oh god at last, the weekend? What about all of us soft workers?
It’s quite charming, looking back, at the times when people actually did have careers, when a job did mean something other than a way of getting some money to trundle in before you die penniless and fraught in a hospital corridor. Now we’ve all got 58 pensions worth £2.37 each with all the companies we’ve dithered along with for three and a half months at a time. All work is hard work. Work is hard to get, and when you get it, it’s hard to keep, and it’s hard whether you keep it or not. There are no jobs for life and we’re meant to be grateful just to have a job at all, even if you’re treated like dirt and can be kicked out at a moment’s notice for the first couple of years – years! – you’re there.
Not for us the chance to avoid tax – it’s sucked right out all at source, and we’re left with the carcass. We can dream of having a million-pound house to hand to our grandchildren, but that would mean actually having a house in the first place, which would mean houses being affordable, which would mean having a permanent job, and so on, and so on. Hard work. That’s all very hard work, and it’s getting harder by the day. It’s all a dream.
But still, the word comes out. I’m sure it must be attractive to people in focus groups – people trying to scrape together a living by doing market research, piecemeal, one place at a time, they must know the meaning of hard work more than anyone. Hardworking. We must be hardworking. We are. But the hardness isn’t in work, it’s in getting work, and keeping it, and being able to find any kind of joy in that.