Number 29 Night Editor: Robert Kraftowitz
Sunday, September 13, 1970
1T'S 9 P.M. . .. Man, I've been working for
three and a half hours and I still have
four and a half hours to go. To be more
exact, I still have over 300 jobs to do in that
one night! That's figuring that we- do 46 jobs
an hour; sometimes it's more, depending on
the word from the front office.
It is getting extremely hot. So hot in fact
that I could almost toast my sandwiches on the
floor. It is too dirty there, though. You hear
some of the other people on the assembly line
talk about walking off the job unless they
install some sort of cooling device. No device
is ever installed but they do walk off the job.
Working in an auto factory is not an easy
job. Finding nothing but frustration, I often
wondered how people call do it. I once asked
my foreman and he simply replied that it has
to be done. I asked how they can take it all of
their lives and of course I got the same idiotic
reply: It has to be done.
10 p.m. - the line stops for lunch. Seven
or eight people gather in the insect-infested
locker room to devour their lunch in the al-
loted. time of one-half hour. We talk about
problems that plague us all, particularly prob-
TUSTIN McCARTHY quit college in 1933.
He was working at a Ford assembly
plant} in an industrial suburb, near Chi-
"I sandpapered all the right-hand fen-
ders. I was paid $5 a day. The parts were
brought in from the River Rouge plant in
Detroit. When I went to work in Janu-
ary, we were turning out 232 cars a day.
When I was fired, four months later, we
were turning out 535. Without any extra
help and no increase in pay. It was a
famous Ford Speed-up.
"The gates were locked when you
came in at eight o'clock in the morning.
They weren't opened up again until five
o'clock in the evening. People brought
their own lunch. No commissary wagons
were permitted on the grounds. Nobody
bothered to tell me. So I didn't eat the
first day. You were supposed to buy your
own gloves. Nobody bothered to tell me
that, either. Imagine my hands at fite
o'clock the first day.4
"I was aware of men in plain clothes
being around the plant, and the constant
surveillance. I didn't learn till later these
were the men of Ford's service depart-
ment. Many of them ex-cons.
"If you didn't punch that clock at
8:00, if you came in at 8:02, you were
docked one hour's pay. There wasn't any
excuse. If you did this two or three times,
you got fired.
"I made the mistake of telling the
foreman I had enrolled at Northwestern
University night school. He said, 'Mr.
Ford isn't paying people to go to college.
Reprinted from "Hard Times" by Studs Terkel (c) 1970
lems within the factory. Every thirty seconds
someone remarks that he wished that the bul-
let with our foreman's name on it would
make its appearance. We all say that we'll kill
him unless he straightens up. He never does
and never will. The threats seldom leave the
"Foremen are dumb." You can hear t h a t
echoed all day and all night and the foremen
do nothing to discredit that belief. Being form-
er assembly workers themselves, it's hard for a
newcomer to imagine how- they could have for-
gotten so fast what it's like to work on the
line. But they have forgotten. A little known
fact about the foreman: every time the work-
ers get a pay raise, the foreman get an identi-
cal raise. They think that because they wear
a white shirt and a tie to work that they have
it made. They still sweat.
On the line itself, you meet the typical peo-
ple: the omnipresent BIG MAN, shorty, Gene,
Charley and even a few women work there.
These are your friends. Contrary to the com-
mon feeling, they are not all dumb, nor are
they genuiuses. But you still confide in them
even though they don't have PhDs. You laugh
with them, bum money from them when .you
are in need and you even hitch a ride home
with them at three in the morning. BIG
MAN once told me that "any poor mother-
fucker" is a friend of his because he knows
what it was like to be poor.
SO, WHAT'S IT like for a college student to
spend a day of his summer vacation put-
ting seats together for Dodge cars?
Passing the security gates and flashing
your badge to the Plant Protection Patrol
brings on the realization that the day is going
to be the same as yesterday and the following
The line starts promptly at the sound of
the 4:30 siren. It will stop only once for the
half hour break for lunch. At work on the as-
sembly-line, the auto seats come at you in a
steady, never ending stream. When you are
working, the line controls all your movements,
you become its appendage. There is no use
trying to work quickly and get ahead of your-
self because there will always be more work
to do. It's grotesque, at night you dream
about the line and how it keeos coming at you.
Trouble erupts swiftly as the foreman starts
his daily sojourn of ineptness. One of the work-
ers stands there asking for a pair of gloves;
he gets them two hours later when the fore-
man finally remembers. Frequently the fore-
man will also forget to furnish you with the
necessary parts to do your job and when
they have to stop the line because you've run
out, he will come down the line and look at
you as if it was your fault.
A worker never has the chance to see much
of the outside world. For the most part, all
he sees is the same patterns every night. He
either works during the day and sleeps at
night or as in my case, work all night and
sleep all day.
After work I woulld go home and j u s t
collapse. Feeling the thick cushion under-
neath me was quite a change in circumstanc-
es. I'd flip on the stereo and eventually I would
fall asleep. That would last for about twenty
minutes and I would be up again searching the
refrigerator for food.
The next day I woulld wake up early in the
afternoon just in time to eat breakfast and
dinner. Slowly I would get dressed in my
grease-stained smock and I would be ready
for the day's routine. It never varied for eight
weeks and continues to stay the same for the
thousands of workers that go through the
same routine everyday of their adult life.
THE HUMAN ELEMENT is completely for-
gotten in the factory. To everybody con-
cerned, it is simply quotas, statistics and time
on a punch clock. To the specific worker, he
is merely eight-digit number in a four-digit
class job. It is not an enlightening conclus-
ion but nothing in the factory ever causes
much enjoyment. '
To the worker, the foreman is the com-
pany. He never sees the executives that dictate
what eight hours of his day will consist of. He
only reads about the "bosses" in the next day's
The foreman comes along and warns you
that you had better get back to work or else
he will "write you up" (file a grievance and
you might be suspended for a day and lose 30
dollars. Can't afford to do that with the rent
payment due this week.
Ah ha, here comes our friendly union stew-
ard. He tells us that he is doing his best for us
but we know better, Gene screams out, "here
comes that lazy bastard." He doesn't do a god-
damn thing all night and neither does the
union. Sure they will negotiate a 26 cent raise
per hour for the workers but they forget com-
pletely about working conditions. Nowhere in
the contract does it say that we have to put
up with the shit that the foremen shove on us.
So we tell the steward in explicit detail what
goes on and he stands there and listens and
does absolutely nothing. Why should he? He's
a former worker too and if you've hit the big
time and want to stay there you can never
look back and you must always say yes to the
man who is one up on you.
Somehow, days and weeks blend into each
other when you work at a fatory. You live
from one weekend to the next, while trying to.
blot the tedium out of y o u r consciousness.
And suddenly you realize that another week-
or a month-has passed.
One day I realized that I had worked at the
factory for seven weeks and had but one week
left in the factory. I had feared the coming
of this week because I knew that I would have
to break these shortlived friendships that I
"WHAT PRETEXTS they used to get
rid of men! Next door to A b n e r
Shutt lived an old fellow who had worked
for the company seventeen years, and
had been told to turn in his badge because
he started to wipe the grease off his
arms a few seconds before quitting
time. Down the street lived a y o u n g
fellow who had been an errandboy and
had made the mistake of stopping to buy
a chocolate-bar. They had a thousand
petty regulations on which the "spotters"
could take you up. A foreman had talked
with one of his men; that was against
the regulation, and out he went. Two
men had talked to one another while at
work; out they both went. You were fired
for forgetting to wear your badge on your
left breast, for staying too long in t h e
toilet, for eating your lunch on the floor,
for talking to men in the new shift com-
ing on. It wasn't even necessary that you
had done one' of these things; it sufficed
that some ex-pugilist of the "service de-
partment" said that you had. There was
"If you were smart and remembered
all the regulations they fired you ano-
ther way; you were not needed r i g h t
now, they said, but keep your badge, you
were still on the payroll, and they'd let
you know when they were ready. That
way they kept up their statistics; but it
meant that you couldn't get a job any-
where else, because the new boss would
ask you where you had worked last, and
would call up Ford's to inquire, and of
course he didn't want some fellow who
was on the Ford payroll.
"With every month of the depression
these things had got worse and worse. The
twenty-five thousand men were driven
until .. . they couldn't handle machinery
had made. I could remember that on the sec-
ond day that I worked there I was already
swearing vehemently at the foreman. They
considered me one of them and I felt at home
POLITICALLY we were all the same. Some of
the workers opposed the war in Indochina
because of the money that was substracted
from their paychecks in the form of higher
taxes. Many believed that one day ther was
going to be a black revolution because there
had to be one. They also felt that many of the
white college students were just fooling around
and really did not mean what they say. It is
almost impossible to change a feeling 1 i k e
that. Maybe I helped and maybe I didn't.
They know that they are in a desperate
plight but know of no way to escape it. The
only group in my factory that made any at
tempt to organize the workers into a viable
political group was ignored by the company
and sneered at by the UAW. Dodge Revolu-
tionary Union Movement flyers could be seen
around every locker room the day it was pub-
Reading through the four-page paper, I
would read about travesties that I had seen
or heard about but that were ignored com-
pletely by the Dodge Union News. Such blood-
curdling stories as how a woman got caught in
the assembly line and her foreman was not
around to turn the line off or about the man
who lost a leg when 3,000 pounds of bolts fell
on him could be read in the DRUM paper.
One day a worker in another Dodge fac-
tory shot and killed his foreman 'and two oth-
er workers. That day we asked our foreman if
he had heard about the incident and he re-
plied yes. We smirked as if it was a warning to
him. Later he told me that it was not a nice
thing to do. I said maybe no. I took it back
the next day when I saw my foreman send a
37-year old man home for missing one day
and not having an absent excuse. I told my
foreman that was not a nice thing to do and I
got no reply.
Things could be so much better in the fac-
tory if the workers just got together and threw
the present union out of the factory. In many
instances, it is the workers' worst enemy. Once
I had a complaint about the way my foreman
was treating me and I called for my steward.
He came and I told him the circumstances of
my complaint and he said that he would tiake
care of it. Ten minutes later I saw my foreman
with his arm around my steward's back and
they were both laughing. I screamed out some
obscenity at both of them and I g'ot laughs
from the other people on the line.
The workers in the factory make an aver-
age of $3.30 to $4.05 an. hour and when they
finally get their check they see that after tax-
es they have virtually no money to live on.
Average take home pay at the end of a 40-hour
week is $106.47.
The money is not worth it considering the
work that they do. They work like hell and
care if they get a raise in pay because now
they realize that eventually it will be eaten up
by inflation anyway. They'll go on strike be-
mouse' they need a vacation. These days orl,
35 per cefit or the workers will show up to vote
on whether to strike or not. Walter Reuther
was right when he thought that he ,was losing
control of his rank and file.
On my last day in the factory I was talk-
ing to a man that worked down the line from
me who is separated from his wife and whose
son died at the age of six when he was run
over by a car. He asked me if I had my first
dollar that I had earned in the factory. In an-
ticipation of something good, I replied that I
did not. With great pride he pulled from his
wallet a one dollar bill that was green on one
side and that had faded to yellow on the other
side: He then told me that he does not even
have enough money to go out to a movie be-
cause he is supporting two families. I wanted
to say something but I could find nothing to
say because it was not for me to say. He wish-
ed me good luck in school and said that he
hoped that I would come1back next summer.
He said that he would still be. there.
started working at Fisher Body in
1917 and retired in '62, with 45 and
8/10 years service. Until 1933, no unions,
no rules: you were at the mercy of your
foreman. I could go to work at seven
o'clock in the morning, and at seven fif-
teen the boss'd come around and say: you
could come back at; three o'clock. If he
preferred somebody else over you, that
person would be called back earlier,
though you were there longer.
"I left the plant so many nights hos-
tile. If I were a fella big and strong, I
think I'd picked a fight with the first fel-
la I met on the corner. (Laughs). It was
lousy. Degraded. You might call yourself
a man if you was on the street; but as
soon as you went througl the door and
punched your card, you was nothing more
or less than a robot. Do this, go there, do
that. You'd do it.
"We got involved in a strike in De-
troit, we lost the strike, went back on our
knees. That's the way you learn things.
I got laid off in the fall of '31. I wasn't
told I was blackballed, but I ,was 'told
there was no more jobs at Fisher Body
'for me. So I came to Flint and was hired
right off the bat. I'm positive my black
marks in Detroit followed me later.
"We had a black legion in this town
made up of stool pigeons and little bigot-
ty kind of people. They got themselves in
good with the management by puttin' the
finger on a union organizer. On the same
order as the Klan, night riders. Once in
a while, a guy'd come in with a black eye.
You'd say, 'What happened?'f He'd say,
I was walking along the street and a guy