What a difference to the Baltic and the Vedic although the food was good in those ships, but the lads were not waited on as we were here in the Waimana. Also, up to date, I missed those great north Atlantic mountains of water. What a change but I was enjoying it. Seaman to shopkeeper! Dungarees and seaboots to a white jacket and shiny shoes.
Charles V. Skargon, ‘From Boy to Man the Hard Way’, p. 138.
Skargon did a multitude of jobs in his working life, on both land and sea. All required manual labour until he settled down into an office role as an insurance man after his adventures at sea and work in construction. These primary sector jobs were typical for working-class men to do, having little to no education a barrier to going into other areas of employment. However, after years of experience, Skargon landed the job as an insurance man with great luck. At first, his employer was unsure of his capability as was Skargon himself, but through hard work and dedication, he soon proved himself to be a competent and successful worker, and was even awarded top insurance salesman in his district in his first year of employment. ‘With legs like jelly I walked up to the table, and I was congratulated and applauded a bit more because it was my first year, and I was presented with my gold medal. I felt like a hero.’ (226)
Work for Skargon was how he lived his life, how he defined and developed himself. He took pride in his work, always trying to perform to his utmost in order to fulfil his duties. He loved to feel like he was important and an asset to those around him, crew mates or insurance clients. His keen interest in being the lookout on the transatlantic ships was a particular boon, allowing him the opportunity to safeguard the ship against potential threats on the horizon and more broadly to see the world around him; to see clearly the backdrop on which his adventure played out. One specific time on duty as lookout when the ship he was manning was transporting soldiers and nurses, Skargon comments, ‘I kidded myself that the safety of all these men and women depended on me… Looking down on all this humanity, I did feel a bit important for a young man.’ (70)
The hardships of labour, particularly as a seaman, were to sculpt Skargon into the man he was. Courage, commitment and composure were necessary qualities to endure and undertake a demanding workload and he mastered them to carry on. This experience persisted through his adult life, Skargon never backing down in a challenge at work and in his personal life, such as when he goes to ask for a job every morning at six o’clock in the morning outside the builder’s house, pushes him forward in life and obtains for him prospects as in the latter example when he is eventually offered a job, despite his lack of sufficient qualifications. Labour is a vital aspect of Skargon’s life, one which influences his subjectivity and forges his identity.
Going further, perhaps the importance of labour in Skargon’s life is representative of a class experience. The working-class man is bettered through labour and finds and builds himself on it. From hard manual labour, Skargon is able to elevate himself to the position of an insurance agent, producing more money and therefore increases the quality of life for his spouse and offspring. Through work, the working-class man can free himself from social and economic obscurity and blur the lines between classes.
Unemployment on the other hand weighs heavily on the working-class man. Skargon describes his experiences of this as ‘rather bleak. I was on the dole again and the amount of dole pay would hardly keep a dog alive.’ (209) He is stripped of status, rendered worthless by the man working in the unemployment office and not being able to support his family for the moment. The qualities that he acquired from work at sea suffer under the cloud of unemployment, Skargon uncommitted to anything except for his family. Unemployment keeps the working class down, not offering it the opportunity to escape its social shackles.
Charles V. Skargon’, in John Burnett, David Mayall and David Vincent. ‘The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography‘, Brighton: Harvester, 1984, vol. 2, no. 712.
Rushenhistory. ‘Thomas Albert Rushen.’ [online]
[Accessed 10th January 2015]
Skargon, Charles V. ‘ From Boy to Man the Hard Way’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography. University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:712.