Minority Report

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These men are relatively privileged workers in Dumaguete. They’re installing roof supports of unusually interesting design in a building of some architectural merit; they’re working with efficient modern tools under safe conditions; and they’re actually working, on a job that promises to keep them for some time to come.

The roof supports are for a building at Foundation University designed by Victor Sinco, an architect and also a trustee of the school. He has developed a consistent style of his own for the campus, based on local organic forms -of which these supports are an example. (It’s true that he’s my boss at work, but that’s beside the point. If I didn’t like his work I wouldn’t feature it here.)

This kind of work can’t be done by methods that are common here. To build like this with any accuracy and speed you need modern power tools and skilled people like this to operate them. What you see on the streets is quite different — large groups of people slowly drilling or breaking concrete with hammers and nails. A short stretch can take a dozen men a week to break, work that one man with a jackhammer could do in a single day. It’s an embarrassingly primitive and crude way of working.

But it has a crude logic. Although it looks crazy to see a lot of grown men banging at cement with hammers and nails, it does keep them employed — at minimum wages, so at least they’re off the streets; and a jackhammer and compressor would probably cost more than what they earn in a year.

You can do a lot with unskilled labor and crude tools, if it’s simple work and you don’t care how long it takes. But there’s a hidden cost. The men you hire may be unskilled, but they’re not stupid. They know the work can be done better and faster, and that they’re only there because they’re cheap. So they work slowly, waste time, and don’t care very much about the result.

The men in this picture are different- you can see in their faces that they are focused on their work, and take pride in doing it well. When the building is finished, they can look at it and know they’ve helped to make something of lasting value, and will value themselves the more for that. That’s what work should be about.

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