Applaud the garbage men


Syed Bakhtiyar Kazmi

“There are no accidents,” so uttered the great Oogway of the Kung Fu Panda fame, which by the way is amongst my top ten all time favourite movies, and if anybody is interested, The Godfather tops the list. Anyways, the series of events which have culminated in this particular article apparently lend credence to the crazy old turtle’s ranting.
A few days ago, we had two simultaneous unfortunate incidents at home. The main water pipe broke down, and the garbage collector did not turn up; imagine what we were willing to do to get rid of the filth piling up in just two days. Right after that, the internet, coincidentally or by accident if you may, threw up an article titled, “Why Garbage men should earn more than Bankers” by Rutger Bregman. I am sure my friends in banking are cringing at the thought, but at first blush after that particular recent ordeal, the suggestion hardly seemed odd. And for the record, Mr Bregman does provide compelling arguments. When you think about it, in relation to us common folks, all bankers have ever done is to squeeze every penny out of our hard-earned money to pay for the mortgage we took for our home, charge our credit cards for unknown fees, and take money out of our bank accounts for mysterious costs, including a charge just for not having enough money in the account, which most likely was because the mortgage payment took everything. What a rip-off. The worst part is that every time you contest these charges with bankers, forget a refund, it costs you even more. Sometimes you wonder whose side is the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) on, especially considering the fact that it’s our taxes which pays for its expenses too! Perhaps, the SBP should have a one window operation in every city to address the complaints of individuals against banks.
Mr Bregman is equally critical of the legal profession, “It goes without saying that the rule of law is necessary for a country to prosper. But now that the US has 17 times the number of lawyers per capita as Japan, does that make the American rule of law 17 times as effective? Or Americans 17 times as protected? Far from it. Some law firms even make a practice of buying up patents for products they have no intention of producing, purely to enable them to sue people for copyright infringement.” And it’s not as if the legal profession is delivering justice to the doorsteps in Pakistan. No need to elaborate here.
But when you think about it, the Frankenstein of technology, in this case as well, will surely bite the hands that feed it. Artificial intelligence is more likely than not to replace white collar jobs compared to blue collar jobs. After all, it is unlikely that computers and robots will be able to collect and dispose garbage on their own.
That is all, perhaps, wishful thinking; however, the importance of sanitation workers was quite vividly explained in the article. Did you know about the Great Garbage Strike of 1968 in New York City? In spite of a prohibition on sanitation workers to go on strike, the NYC garbage men did opt for such an unlawful action and one fine morning in February, stayed home. Within nine days, NYC was drowning in garbage, and the administration came to its knees and struck a deal with the garbage men, who got paid more to do one of the most important jobs in a city. To venture a guess, if that happened today in NYC, less than five days might be enough for the administration to crumble!
And when you think about it, it was just this August that everyone was talking about the dump that Karachi is becoming, and are still talking about it. Political parties and celebrities were all in a rush to be on television cleaning the streets with a jharo (broom). An activist was even jailed for the noble objective of bringing the matter of garbage implosion in Karachi in a unique manner by littering in front of the Chief Minister’s house. Whether or not Clemenceau was right about not leaving war to the Generals, I am sure dear readers will agree that the politicians, or celebrities for that matter, might not be a good choice for taking care of the city garbage. The only solution is to pay the garbage men enough money so that they keep the city clean. They, after all, are the right men for the job. And surely as taxpayers, we would rather agree more with this proposal, than to any other increase in salaries and benefits in the public sector.
Clearly, with an ever-increasing flow of job seekers from the rural areas to urban cities, managing cities, especially in a developing country, is a nightmare. Our cities are ill-equipped and badly planned to absorb this constant flood of migrants, who further stress the already frail civic infrastructure and support systems. And more people mean more garbage. On my recent visit to Karachi, travelling down Sharah-e-Faisal, it was evident that the city is in a state of decline, and garbage dumps were perhaps the most striking evidence of it. And let’s not single out one city. Each and every one of our cities is becoming a garbage creating a monster, and as they grow, rather haphazardly, the problem gets further exacerbated.
Most of us take garbage disposal for granted but imagine what a stinky place our cities would be if that system failed completely. And if you really sit down to think about it, you would realise that in a city there are multiple facilities and services which we take for granted, some we can very well do without, while some are indispensable. For instance, we could probably do without the newspaper in the morning for a long while. There are already too many columnists now anyways and they surely would not be missed. And we were doing very well without these multiple news channels before, so if somebody banned them, we probably would get used to that too, and some of us may even celebrate. But we cannot do without all the blue-collar workers who keep ensuring the provision of basic amenities, like gas, electricity, water and garbage disposal, at our doorsteps.
So, take out the time to applaud the garbage men and others who work as hard to keep our cities and hence our country running, and ensure that our country will be a better place to live in.