When we sent out an appeal asking for workers’ stories in the early summer, we weren’t sure what response we’d get. At that time, we were just a couple of months into the pandemic and lockdown was still strict. Since then, a consistent trickle of submissions has come in. We’ve now published over twenty stories and there are more on the way.
The stories span retail, logistics, health and education. We’ve published a drawing by a postie, a picture by a lorry driver, a cleaner’s monologue, a poem by a care home worker, paintings by a nurse and a video by a furloughed travel agency employee. Some of the stories we’ve published reflect on the sense of danger associated with COVID19. Marion Johnstone’s drawing depicted how concerned she was delivering mail and concern for her customers. Kim wrote about the fear that the pandemic brought to an Ayrshire hospital ward: ‘I was scared, I love my job, but I never signed up to give my life for it.’ Another NHS employee, Matthew Lynch, who works as an ambulance employee, joined Kim in repudiating the ‘hero’ badge which was foisted on health service staff by the government. Instead he wondered, ‘am I just a carrier, giving it to one and all?’
Other themes that emerged include losses and grief. Erin Niven’s poem, ‘I Watched’, powerfully narrated her experience of working in a care home during COVID19, concluding that: ‘I watched someone die today but I also watched people live.’ As the pandemic has progressed and debates have moved on to opening back up and facing the long-term effects of its economic impact, the submissions we’ve received have evolved. They are still conditioned by the experience of working under COVID19 but often with an eye to what it might reveal about the future. Dee Davie’s colourful drawings demonstrate the frustrations of working from home for many white-collar workers, which are likely to continue for some time to come. Stephen Campbell’s ‘View from the frontline’ illuminated the battered landscape of welfare advice after ten years of austerity, just as Glasgow City Council announced the closure of CAB centres.
Some accounts were more optimistic. Hazel Stevens wrote about enjoying a slower pace to life under lockdown. Claire Grayland mused on both the difficulties and uniqueness of spending more time than usual with her young family. These submissions implicitly questioned divisions between paid and unpaid work. Twelve-year-old Hannah Gail Angus’ drawings reminded us that COVID19 has mad demands on the young and that work isn’t the sole preserve of adults. As the pandemic progresses a reflective quality has grown in the submissions. Steve’s recent writing about working in a supermarket exposed the longevity of COVID19. He recalled panic buying and the early days of social distancing in terms of looking back upon an earlier period. Richard’s notes from public information announcements also established a sense of personal and collective trajectory. No doubt Richard’s archive will keep growing in the coming weeks. With new lockdowns implemented there are definitely more workers’ stories to come in the politicised atmosphere that now colours debate over future measures and the continuation of furlough.
We’re far from finished and we want to hear from you. If you have a story for us, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the coming months we will be taking steps towards advertising and exhibiting our submissions. Scotland’s workers have been part of a world-historic experience and it should be told by them and on their terms.