By Chiogor Constance Ikokwu
Dateline: Eixample, Barcelona, Spain
On May 1st, the world celebrated Labour Day. It’s a day set aside to honour working people globally. This year’s commemoration is striking given that Covid-19 is forcing us to revaluate what is important. In society, there is a dichotomy between what we term highly skilled and low skilled jobs. The former is arrogated a higher social status. But during the Covid-19 health crisis, the supposedly low-income workers have proved to be a critical lifeline for society.
Every evening in my neighbourhood in Eixample, Barcelona, residents burst into their balconies to stage a clap session. Some roll out the drums, others join from their windows. The clapping goes on for a few minutes. The sense of solidarity is astounding. The message is clear.
It’s a gesture of appreciation to all the health workers and other essential services staff risking their lives to keep us safe in this tough season.
When I stepped out of my house for the first time during the third week of lockdown, Barcelona was a ghost town. The usually lively city had been knocked into an eerie silence. The only people that were up and about were truck drivers delivering food and cashiers at supermarkets. It was obvious that we would starve without them.
I also saw bus drivers, cab drivers, train drivers that were necessary to transport the few still working. Later, I learned there was an appeal for fruit pickers and farm workers around the country.
The other places that flung their doors wide open were pharmacies and hospitals. While we were in isolation to stay safe, they hurled themselves deep into the battle. They had no choice. Nurses, doctors, cleaners, and cooks in hospitals flew the flag of humanity. Should we still be looking down on some occupations? HELL NO!
Here is where we need to redefine the values that are placed on certain trades. No job in life is more or less important than the other. The dignity of labour for all should be the goal because it’s impossible to survive without one another.
I remember that as a child, my dad told me the refuse man was like anybody else. He drummed it into my head that respect for everyone was important. He illustrated his point with a question. “If they refuse man does not remove the trash, will we be able to live comfortably in a dirty environment?” The argument was that someone has to do the job and that person is equally as valuable as you.
Covid-19 has reaffirmed this.
Did you see pictures of nurses, doctors sleeping on the floor in hospitals out of sheer exhaustion? Or the ones that collapsed at their doorsteps when they reached home? Then, there are those deep marks on faces tattooed by compulsory mask-wearing. The scars of sacrifice are there for us to see.
A friend of mine was hospitalised for other reasons during this time. She posted pictures of her meals on Facebook, meaning the cooks still had to keep the kitchen open. She commented that hospital food was pleasantly good. Similarly, the cleaners showed up for work. What can we do without these workers? Nothing!
If there’s anything that Covid-19 is teaching us, it is that people should be treated equally irrespective of background, status, and position in life. No job should be considered superior or inferior. With that also comes the protection of the rights of workers.
Social reformation needs to happen on this front. We can start by teaching our children at home and in schools. It’s a powerful philosophy capable of building empathetic human beings, something sorely needed on our planet today.
Arrogance associated with status and so-called top jobs is a disservice to humanity.