Rivethead Social Issues Of Work Essay Research

Rivethead; Social Issues Of Work Essay, Research Paper Introduction Ben Hampers book Rivethead; Tales From The Assembly Line is a gritty in your face account of a factory workers

Rivethead; Social Issues Of Work Essay, Research Paper

Introduction

Ben Hampers book Rivethead; Tales From The Assembly

Line is a gritty in your face account of a factory workers

struggles against his factory, his co-workers, and the time

clock. Hamper makes no apologies for any of his actions,

many of which were unorthodox or illegal. Instead he

justifies them in a way that makes the factory workers

strife apparent to those who have never set foot on an

assembly line and wouldn?t have the vaguest idea how much

blood, sweat and tears go into the products we take for

granted everyday.

Rivethead is an account of the entire life of Author

Ben Hamper, from his long family lineage of ?shoprats? and

his catholic school upbringing to his numerous different

positions on the General Motors assembly line and his

equally numerous lay-offs from the GM Truck & Bus Division.

Unfortunately the many years of back breaking labor combined

with Hampers own personal demons led him to check into an

outpatient mental facility (at the time of the completion of

this book) where he learns daily to cope with his many years

of mental anguish.

Rivethead is a social commentary on industrial America,

assembly line work , and the auto industry. This essay,

however, will focus on the more specific aspects

Hamper considers, such as the monotony required on a (then)

modern assembly line, the relationship and hierarchy among

workers and their interaction with management as well as

both collective and individual responses to work and job

satisfaction (or lack there of).

Analysis

When Henry Ford first developed the idea of the

assembly line he was heralded as one of the most forward

thinking men of his time, and without the assembly line we

would no doubt not be as powerful a nation as we are today.

The assembly line principle as it matured in industrial

society however, proved to destroy workers creativity and

stifle the very essence of human life. Growth and change.

On an assembly line workers are degraded to automatons,

performing the same tasks over and over and over. Day in day

out, without ever having any knowledge or input into any of

the other tasks related to completion of the project. This

monotony in the workplace spills over into the daily life of

many factory workers and affects how they live their life

outside of the factory after the whistle blows as much as it

does while they?re on the assembly line. This spillover was

observed by Hamper of his Grandfather. ?Straight home from

work, dinner, the evening news and immediately into bed at

7:00 p.m. He arose each weekday at 3:30 a.m., fixed himself

some black coffee, turned on the kitchen radio, smoked a

handful of Lucky Strikes and waited to leave for work at a

quarter to five. This regimen never varied one iota in the

forty years he worked for GM? (Hamper pg.6). It is fairly

clear that the monotony of the assembly line has a way of

setting personal routines for it?s workers that eventually

work their way out of the factory and into the home. One

interesting question that is raised, is whether people who

like their life to be routinized eventually find their way

to an assembly line or if the assembly line monotony brings

the propensity to routinize out in people who previously did

not live by many routines.

The relationships Hamper discusses between the workers

on the assembly line are unique to say the least and

sometimes comical or dangerous. After reading this book I

would surmise that most factory workers build friendships

with other factory workers almost exclusively. This could be

due to their similarity of interests, similarity of jobs,

the fact that they are in contact daily, or just by virtue

of the timing of their shifts (as was Hampers case). I think

one thing that helped to bind the workers together was the

fact that they saw it as workers against management and by

their solidarity they could turn the balance of power in

their favor. This solidarity was visible when a new

supervisor was hired who wasn?t cutting the workers any

slack, so the workers resorted to sabotage. ?We simply had

no other recourse. Sometimes these power-gods had to be

reminded that it was we, the workers, who kept this place

runnin?? (Hamper pg.206). Relationships between workers were

generally very good, although there was a hierarchy among

the workers between the new guys and the experienced guys.

?Franklin…made a career out of intimidating rookies?

(Hamper pg.51) because until a worker had put in 90 days he

could be fired for any reason. Not all of Hamper?s

co-workers saw eye to eye with him when it came to his

column in the Flint Voice. After one column in which he

poked fun at someone down the line he nearly was strangled

to death.

The interactions between Management and the line

workers was quite different than that among the line

workers. The same solidarity that created bonds between the

line workers creates rifts between workers and management.

Consequently management did what they could to make it hard

for the workers and to re-affirm their own dominance. ?Henry

Jackson, [was] always in a mad quest to break up the

chemistry of the Rivet Line by importing snitches and

milksops…? (Hamper pg.188). One example of a cruel

personal vendetta was when during a layoff a supervisor

forced one worker to stay on when he didn?t want to and

there were many workers who would rather work than be laid

off, strictly as a personal attack. The line workers spite

for management was demonstrated during a slow down when

Hamper and one of his friends were discussing a fantasy

docudrama they would make that ?…would be a collection of

short pieces that chronicled the systematic executions of

[their] least favorite shoplords? (Hamper pg.125). Beyond

just friction with their direct management the workers had

quite a few complaints with the higher up corporate

management. After an elderly woman was hurt on the assembly

line attempting to do a job she was unqualified for, Hamper

noted ?GM?s total aimless approach in evaluating the

capabilities and limitations of a given worker? (Hamper

pg.110) and regarding GM policy in general Hamper stated,

?There was just no figurin? General Motors. When it came

time to make a move, I think they just threw darts at a

board or yanked on straws? (Hamper pg.105). These situations

only perpetuated the growing contempt of management by the

line workers and mistrust of line workers my management.

Hamper and his line mates did whatever they could to

help pass the time and break up the monotony of their

workday. ?Doubling-up? was a common behavioral response to

the monotony of the assembly line. ?Doubling-up jobs,

whenever and wherever possible, made the utmost sense. This

arrangement totally destroyed the monotony of waiting for

that next cab to arrive? (Hamper pg.39). In this doubling-up

arrangement two workers would privately organize and devise

a means of having one man complete both jobs at the same

time, while each took turns relaxing for half the time.

?…The summit of the double-up system [was] a half day on ,

a half day off…? (Hamper pg.61), which Hamper took

advantage of whenever possible. Doubling-up was a rather

drastic behavioral response because, technically it was a

theft of time and wages. (Although one could argue that if

all the assigned work was being completed it was not theft.)

Hamper and his fellow line workers embraced any and

every diversion they could conceive of in order to bring a

little excitement or emotion to their daily grind. Most of

these diversions were passive in nature and didn?t interfere

with their ability to meet their quotas or performance

standards. Hamper would often pretend that his riveting job

was an Olympic event and he was competing for the honor of

his country, just to pass a few minutes. These mental

diversions soon turned into full fledged sports and games of

skill, such as Rivet Hockey and Dumpster Ball. Co-worker Roy

showed Hamper a particularly dangerous method of work

avoidance. ?[He] approached me with a box-cutter knife

sticking out of his glove and requested that I give him a

slice across the back of his hand. He felt sure this ploy

would land him a few days off? (Hamper pg.43).

Conclusion

It is clear that the industrial assembly line is a

manufacturing process that requires the complete servitude

of the workers to the machine. ?The whole arrangement equals

nothing more than lousy prostitution? (Hamper pg.233). None

of the workers were the least bit happy to be working in the

GM factory because they viewed it as their only option, a

family legacy passed down from generation to generation.

By being involved in only one very small aspect of the

completed vehicle the workers felt disconnected from the job

because they had no sense of who they were making the trucks

for or where they would go. ?Never had I encountered one

human soul who had either purchased, ordered, leased, or

even hot-wired a General Motors Suburban? (Hamper pg.158).

Beyond feeling disconnected to the completed vehicle, the

workers felt (rightfully so sometimes) that GM was so huge

and that they, as workers, were such an insignificant part

of the organization that they couldn?t affect any change.

?[It] went along with being just another cog in such a

mammoth flywheel? (Hamper pg.72).

Ironically the Saturn car company, a division of

General Motors, was one of the first auto makers to try to

solve the inherent problems of the assembly line. Instead of

each worker doing the same thing all day long, Saturn

created a system where lineworkers are organized into

workgroups which combine to complete a major, visible

portion of the car. Saturn also informs the lineworkers

specifically who they are making each individual car for and

where it will be sent whenever possible. These small changes

along with many other recent advances have proven to make a

tremendous difference in worker satisfaction and loyalty and

continue to help humanize an inhuman job.