THE SAN FRANCISCO SCAVENGERS: Dirty Work and the Pride of Ownership by Stewart E. Perry

THE SAN FRANCISCO SCAVENGERS: Dirty Work and the Pride of Ownership

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The connection between society's ""dirty work"" and the economic and psychological gains of ownership is the crucial question Perry raises in this surprising and surprisingly ""relevant"" study of the San Francisco Scavengers--the garbagemen of the city by the sea. A sociologist by trade, Perry acted as a participant-observer for some ten-plus years, familiarizing himself with the work routines, business practices, and technologies rapidly advancing on the men who ""carry the can."" They are an unusual bunch, having begun as a worker's cooperative in 1920 with 92 equal partners and having retained their identity, despite growth, for some 50 years. (In virtually every other big city in the US, the essential service they provide is performed by municipal workers or private contractors.) What promises at first glance to be merely a study of job-related attitudes by one uniquely stigmatized group of blue-collar workers turns out to be much more. For, since 1966 when Perry's involvement began, garbage has become big business, thanks to ecological consciousness of the need for ""solid waste management"" and the vast quantitative increase in America's refuse. The structure of the Scavengers--whose onerous work was offset by high pay, ethnic and familial ties, and the pride of joint ownership--is currently undergoing rapid change. Already, the cooperative has given way to Envirocal, a holding company engaged in diversification and agglomeration; expansion threatens to separate ""members"" from ""helpers,"" creating management-worker antagonisms that never before existed. Perry asks whether the Scavengers can retain their job satisfaction, their loyalties to each other, and their high productivity in these new circumstances. The answers are necessarily complex, partial, and tentative--and vital to future resource planning.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1978
Publisher: Univ. of California Press