We know from our newspapers, television, films and literature that those few people (the 1%) who own enough capital to please themselves are careful of activities which even look like paid employment. They race, ride, sail, ski, surf,climb, explore, fly, drive, safari, dig, dance, dine, sculpt, paint, write, research, with energy, enthusiasm and solemnity the state of quality, serious and dignified which makes it clear that these are the important and autonomous activities in life of the rich, better off and wealthy.
Among the majority however, who must spend their lives in employment, a whole edifice of snobbery has been erected which weakly reflects this idea: that work is most highly esteemed which looks least like real work.
Useful, productive work which runs the service and manufactures the products we all live by has menial status. Dirty hands, blue overalls, clocking in, early morning starts, (I use to hate them continental shifts on the steel works) piece work, night shift, manual skills, technical knowledge and qualifications, canteen meals, weekly pay and the monthly salary, trade union membership - all these indicate inescapable working class status.
With certain exceptions, status increases in inverse proportion to the apparent usefulness of ones work, and in direct proportion to ones power to impose freedom upon others in the interests of capital and the state. Work has thus become polarised in two main ways. Work time and work activities have become separated from and opposed to leisure time and leisure activities. And production and producers have become polar opposites of consumption and consumers.
Many leisure pursuits are as energetic and skilful as paid jobs but they are not despised because they are done voluntary, and most of them are useless. Potholing and caving are done for fun. But coal or gold mining is hard toil. Restoring and operating old railways is a leisure pursuit. Re- securing and operating old canals is a labour of love. Mountaineering, deep-sea diving, lion hunting, shark fishing, are all dangerous and often uncomfortable, dirty and tiring. All these pastimes and sports have their equivalents in productive work. But in these cases the wages have to be high, or the threat of poverty intense, to make people undertake the work.