Tuesday 22 July 2008
Anti-Heroes of Labour
It was Soviet artists who created the visual formula for the depiction of the Hero of Labour in the Machine Age. The template was adapted in the US a decade later in the era of the WPA but it never really caught on in Britain as these examples show. Perhaps this is indicative of the employer/employee relationship in Britain but for the most part the British worker presents a decidedly modest profile by comparison with his international counterparts. Rather than being engaged in strenuous manual activity, battling with intractable materials in dangerous situations, the British worker loafs around the factory floor, shoulders slumped, hands in pockets, and stares with indifference at the products of his labour. British employers have always favoured an adversarial relationship with their workforce. The worker is regarded as intrinsically idle and incapable of effort unless motivated by fear. Flattering the workforce with celebrations of labour heroism is no part of their plan. So little valued was the British worker that he often appears, as in these examples, as the Zombie of the Machine Age. Remarkably many of these attitudes persist into the present in UK labour relations.