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The Intelligence, Strength, Endurance, Goodness, and Significance of Working-Class People Everywhere

Dan Nickerson-International Liberation Person for Working-Class People

This article is about the importance of the Working-Class Commitment. I think the Commitment is one of the most important pieces ever written for working-class people. Harvey Jackins* first used it in counseling me in about 1984. I assume he created it.

 First, people need to understand what RC Commitments are. They are not magic words that, if you say them, will transform you and everything around you. The RC Commitment is a tool. It is an idea, written out in some form, that gives the person in the grips of a distress something to hold in her or his mind in contradiction to that distress. Harvey once described the counselor’s role as “helping the client to organize his or her attention.” That is what the commitment is for. The Working-Class Commitment is a picture of reality that working-class people can hold in their minds as a contradiction to all of the self-invalidation, hopelessness, and shame that rattles around in their brains and that was put there by class oppression.

The Working-Class Commitment works well in a session if you read or say it and then think about what it would mean to keep that commitment. It works best if you decide at the moment you say it that it will guide your life. It works even better if you use it outside of session because the contradiction is greater. It works best if you carry it out in your life.

The Working-Class Commitment is the most powerful tool in my toolbox. I have a friend who carries her folding pocketknife everywhere with her. I carry the Working-Class Commitment everywhere I go. I use it many times a day in my work and, of course, the work of working-class liberation fills every day of my life.

The Working-Class Commitment

I solemnly promise that from this moment on, I will take pride in the intelligence, strength, endurance, and goodness of working-class people everywhere.

I will remember to be proud that we do the world’s work, that we produce the world’s wealth, that we belong to the only class with a future, that our class will end all oppression.

I will unite with my fellow workers everywhere around the world to lead all people to a rational, peaceful society.

I am a worker, proud to be a worker, and the future is in my hands.

 

The Working-Class Commitment is a versatile tool. It can be used in many situations and in many ways. I sometimes use it forcefully in a crisis to jar my co-workers out of their fear. I can use it tenderly and patiently with a friend who has been driven into deep despair. I can use it in my hands with a strong handshake of congratulations and respect to a worker who is moving on, or with an enthusiastic hug to someone deserving a celebration of her or his success. I can apply it with my eyes and facial expression as I look across the factory floor and beam a happy smile and “Good morning; good to see you” at one of my co-workers. I can use it with words as I remind my co-workers how essential we are to our company, how difficult it would be for them to find and train employees with our depth of knowledge and experience, and how much of the success of the company is due to us. I can use it with my tone of voice as I logically and calmly explain to management a problem in the workplace and my proposal for a solution.

The Working-Class Commitment is always in my mind when I counsel someone, either in an agreed-upon session or in a situation where someone needs some thoughtful listening.

It is in my mind when I take on a new challenge, which I try to do at least daily. I remember my pride in myself and in my people. I remember all that I and other working-class people have done in the face of fear. I remember the courage that my family and friends have shown over years. Remembering these things, as it says to do in the Working-Class Commitment, allows me to do things that make a difference to other people and that give them hope—and that give me hope as well, as the world responds to my initiatives.

Like any tool it needs to be kept sharp. It needs to be practiced and used regularly to keep up one’s skill. I remember a Co-Counselor who stayed at my house before a workshop. It was time to split some wood for the woodstove. She offered to come outside with me and help carry in the wood. She was surprised at the skill and ease with which I split the wood into kindling to start the fire. I learned to do this as a boy and it is a job I do every day in our long winter. Even my housemates who see me do it often admire my skill. I take my skill for granted, but they are right to appreciate it. I am good at it. It is work I do easily and almost without effort. I like doing it under the right conditions and I find it satisfying. I have this skill because I have practiced it—a lot.

Similarly my co-workers admire my skill with the Working-Class Commitment. They notice and appreciate the respect I show to all people at work. They notice that I have no favorites. They notice that I am patient with people’s patterns and do not blame them for their distresses. They notice that, despite my considerable education and experience, I respect everyone’s intelligence and seek out their thinking and advice on things. Some of them comment about how I “never get upset.” I have to remind them that inside I am often frustrated or in a rage but that I have a strong commitment to not aim my unhappiness at other people. They like knowing this. It makes them feel like they are okay, too, when they feel discouraged or angry. They like being reminded that you can be upset and still act intelligently.

What all of these things do is remind people and myself that we are all alike as human beings and we are all in this together. Over time this reminder is a powerful tool in bringing about solidarity and a sense of pride and purpose in a group of people.

This all comes from my practice of the Working-Class Commitment. I am perhaps as good at this work as I am at splitting wood. It is a little more complex than using an axe and I need more help to maintain my skill—I need to have regular sessions—but I like this work, too, and I find it satisfying. Other people like watching me work with it. Many people have followed my example and followed me into the “trade” of working-class liberation because I make it look like such a rewarding and fun challenge when I do it.

REMEMBERING OUR SIGNIFICANCE

One aspect of the Working-Class Commitment that I have been emphasizing with working-class people is our significance. Everything in the Working-Class Commitment implies this, but lately I am spelling it out more clearly in workshops and classes and in my contacts with people in the factory. We are enormously significant.

You can see our significance in many ways. As it says in the Working-Class Commitment,  “We do the world’s work, we create the world’s wealth, we are the only class with a future.” The world could not function without workers and the work we do.

Beyond that, when we take ourselves and our goals seriously, we are powerful. Our every act has significance.

Harvey liked to remind people that every act they do or do not do is significant—some for the better and some for the worse, but nevertheless they are significant. The things we do are significant; the things we don’t do are significant. Every working-class person knows this once reminded of it—the dirty laundry piling up on the floor sooner or later is going to need to be dealt with. Whether we let it drop to the floor in a pile or put it where it belongs will make a difference.

Another way to see our significance is through the fact that, by the nature of our work and our lives, working-class people are in close contact with reality. Over and over again in the factory—and in our government—I can see the results of decisions being made by people who are not in direct contact with what actually happens and how things actually work. People in those positions can make some very bad decisions because they are uninformed and ignorant. We are told that they are the intelligent ones and we are the ignorant ones and, of course, for an oppressive society to continue to function it is important that working-class people believe that. Let’s not cooperate with that notion.

At least in the United States of America right now, because of the war our country is waging in Iraq and other crises, more and more people are seeing and understanding the effects of having people make decisions for us who do not understand the reality “on the ground.”

Not only do we know how to make things, fix things, move things, make things run—another reason for our significance is that we are in direct contact with lots and lots of people. Our work brings us in contact with people. Our work, whether loading trucks or raising children, requires cooperation. We are skilled at making effective contact with people and knowing how to communicate clearly and effectively to get something done.

A co-worker of mine has recently (through my encouragement) been pulled into the planning of some major reconfigurations of our factory. She has been amazed at the inefficiency of the meetings and the amount of time spent talking about things of no consequence. She is a mother of three children, runs a household, and is one of the fastest workers in the factory. She knows how to analyze things quickly, communicate solutions concisely and clearly to other people, and get things done. Her only handicap is that she can lose a sense of her own intelligence. So I have been encouraging her to stay engaged with this process at work, reminding her how intelligent she is and how significant it is that she communicate what she knows.

Over and over again, we, as working-class people, forget our significance. We fall into the habit of self-invalidation, of thinking that we don’t matter, and, too often, we act like we don’t matter. Bad things happen when we fall into this pattern. We leave an opening for all of the bad thinking around us to assert itself.

One way that I used to fall into this pattern before I started RC was to dress as though I didn’t matter. I was a kind of walking display of the insignificance that I felt inside. When I met Harvey he was a good model for me. He talked sometimes about the importance of dressing well and taking care of one’s appearance. This doesn’t mean spending a lot of money—he got many of his clothes at second-hand stores. It just meant that when you looked at him he looked well-groomed and like a person who treated himself with respect. He advertised not his patterns but that he was a person who was well-organized, thought about things, took himself seriously, and knew that people would be looking to him—as people are always looking to all of us—for leadership.

So the challenge I put to you is, can we take ourselves that seriously? I do. I don’t always succeed, but it is my intent. I am best at it when other people are around because then I can tell that it has worse consequences if I don’t do it.

Do not think that you do not matter to me. You inspire me. I have great respect for you. You face your oppression day after day and do your best in the face of it. You try to act with the knowledge that it is your responsibility to see that everything you are in contact with goes well. For some of you this is a conscious decision and for many of you it is just a good habit formed by the necessities of a working-class life. You have developed the discipline of being a skilled and accomplished worker—of putting your mind where it needs to be despite whatever distresses are harassing you from the inside. When oppression threatens to thwart you, you fight it, or find some other way to go over or around it or thwart its effects on what you know needs doing. You are important to me.

THE REAL NATURE OF LEADERSHIP

This brings us to another widespread confusion among working- class people—and in the world in general—and that is about the true nature of leadership. One of our major confusions as working-class people is that we are not significant. The other is that we are not leaders.

This piece of our internalized oppression plays out in lots and lots of ways. We think we are too stupid, that we don’t know enough, that there is someone better, that we are not qualified. Let’s take a look at reality for a minute. How do you think the world’s “leaders” are doing now? Almost everyone agrees that things are a mess. Many, if not most, people think we are headed toward a crisis. Increasingly people are disenchanted with the current leadership.

How can we look at the current lack of effective leadership and then continue to completely rule ourselves out?  I would say that it is only our conditioning not to think of ourselves as leaders that keeps us from playing good leadership roles.

I talked above about many of the reasons working-class people make good leaders—our contact with reality, practical knowledge, and ability to communicate and work cooperatively. One of our greatest handicaps has been fear.  We are prone to a couple of fears that go hand-in-hand. We are afraid of leading and we are afraid of being humiliated. The stakes are high enough at this stage in human history that I think we might say to that fear, “So what?”  What do we have to lose but perhaps some of that fear if we move forward without listening to its voice?

Working-class people are natural leaders. The society confuses us into thinking that leadership is about having a title, about having a university degree or a lot of education, or about having someone’s permission or approval. I like Harvey’s definition of leadership:  “Seeing that everything you are in contact with works well.” I think that is the only rational definition of leadership. Working-class people understand that. Working-class people have been doing that for a long time. If we had not been doing that, where would we be? If you do not, as a working-class person, see that everything you are in contact with goes well, who will? We do not have people taking care of us whose job it is to see that we are fed and clothed and that our children are taken care of and our bills paid. We are the ones who must do that.

That is leadership. We see that everything we are in contact with works well. That doesn’t mean that we do it all ourselves. Sometimes it means that we organize and direct other people. We call up our sisters-in-law or uncles to come help build our house or plan the care of a relative—but we have the discipline of taking care of things that need taking care of one way or another. That is leadership.

So far in our history working- class people have been told that we can exert our power only in a limited area of our lives. That is not true. Our power belongs everywhere, and never has it been more important for us to be clear about that than it is now.

I know that you agree with what I have just said. It all makes sense. And I know that you know that it is only your fear and your self-doubt that cause you any hesitation with any of what I have been saying.

I do not doubt you. I want you to take the next step. It is just fear that is in your way. Jump over it. Push through it. Focus on the task. Just like you have always done everything.

Everything comes with experience. I am not asking that you jump over a bridge. Simply to look at the significance of who you are. We have the tool we need to do this job.

Practice the Working-Class Commitment with yourself and with your working-class friends. There is more to the commitment, but a fine place to end is: 

“I am a worker, proud to be a worker and the future is in my hands.”

You can discharge in your Co-Counseling sessions and take your significant actions out there in the world you live in. See what happens. I think it will be interesting.


* Harvey Jackins, the International Reference Person for the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities, from their beginnings until his death in 1999


Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00