WORKING, by Studs Terkel (BOOK FOUR – Part One, The Demon Lover – Concluded)

From Chicago to Ohio: Road trip!

This time we’ve got a general foreman and a president of United Automobile Workers in Lordstown, Ohio.

This is gonna be good.

Wheeler Stanley (General Foreman)

Stanley (no, not that one) is your stereotypical working man who loves his company and wants to do right by it.

It doesn’t matter whether he disagrees or his pesky conscience gets in the way, he has to push that aside and act for the benefit of the company. Stanley is a lot more open about his views and I think that’s because he doesn’t seem to feel like there’s much conflict in his views and how they affect the people who work under him.

As such, there’s a lot more to get out of Stanley than their was with Brand, such as:

I could stand back, look at a job, and five minutes later I can go and do it. I enjoyed the work. I felt it was a man’s job. You can do something with your hands. You can ho home at night and feel you have accomplished something. (p. 182)

As you might expect, all Stanley wanted to do when he was younger was to join the army. More specifically, Stanley wanted to be a paratrooper. When that happened and he got back from the war, he worked his ranks up the Ford factory that we’ve been looking at through Terkel’s interviews. He rose fast and it’s not hard to see why when he calls Terkel “sir” and, according to Terkel, constantly appearing to be “at attention” and later on treats his boss like a Sargent.

Also unsurprising is that Stanley feels like the military and its regime of discipline (my description) prepared him well for work. I think one thing we have been seeing in the past few interviews is how the discipline of society interrelates to itself and how it intersperses to different parts and in different but still very similar ways within different prominent institutions.

The discipline you learn in school can translate to work but it can also translate to the military. And in turn that discipline that you get from the military can then translate to being a good little worker for your managers. It’s almost like society has us in this perpetual loop of systems whereby blind obedience is generally awarded.

Huh, who would have thought?

p.s. The idea that doing things with your hands is a “manly” thing is bullshit.

I’m the kind of guy, if I was due for a raise I’m not gonna ask for it. If they don’t feel I’m entitled to it, they’re not gonna give it to me. If they think I’m entitled to it, they’ll give it to me. If I don’t deserve it, I’m not gonna get it. I don’t question my boss, I don’t question the company. (p. 182)

For Stanley, the workplace, much like the army, is a well-oiled machine and how could the people above him make mistakes? How could the choices of people who must obviously know better than him be wrong? No, for Stanley and folks like him it’s just easier to trust in the pace that his “superiors” ask for and leave the matter there.

The working “relationship” then becomes less of a two-way street and more of a street implausibly labeled “one way” when there’s enough room for two sides (if not more). For Stanley this “relationship” is more of a, “they say “jump!” and I say “how high?”‘ which isn’t much of a relationship at all. If you’re not questioning the orders you’re given then how are you going to be able to (even presuming this is a good thing) make the firm more efficient?

After all, making something more efficient, at times, requires uprooting old ways of thinking and replacing them with new information. If you aren’t doing that then the company you work for or manage is likely to go out of business before long.

There’s a few on the line you can associate with. I haven’t as yet. When you get familiarity it causes—the more you get to know somebody, it’s hard to distinguish between boss and friend.

This isn’t good for my profession. (p. 183)

I’ve never been convinced that professionalism should mean people who are on different levels of functioning cannot be friends. I think this can make situations more strained than they need to be. To take a non-work example, I had a philosophy professor in college who I wanted to remain in touch with after I left. But my trepidation of our past relationship as student and professor made me question whether that was a good idea or not.

This divide between students and professors may be necessary on some level but on another level I think the professionalism creates an unease for some folks. I’m sure plenty people end up befriending teachers or professors and even their bosses. I’ve talked plenty about how I am best friends with one of my managers. But in that case we had previously been co-workers long before they got the offer to be promoted and accepted it.

I don’t think treating “underlings” with such impersonal attitudes makes anyone respect anyone more. As Brand said in the interview I noted last time, if you seem too impersonal then the people “under” you may not trust you or take the orders you want them to take. I think that’s a great point and while I would prefer to see management abolished, there’s still better and worse kinds of managers out there and Stanley strikes me as a bad one with an attitude like this.

I just re-read this and was a bit surprised

I don’t think I’ve missed three days in the last five years. My wife likes to nag me, because if she gets sick I pick up my mother-in-law and bring her over. “You stay with my wife, she’s not that bad. I’m going to work.”

(p. 183)

Putting your job over the life and health of someone you’ve decided to say, “until death do us part” is one hell of a drug.

I couldn’t ever imagine leaving a partner with someone else if they were considerably sick, downplaying that sickness and then contesting that they don’t need me and I’ll just go to work. I mean, I guess Stanley takes it seriously enough to bring over his wife’s mother so that she’s still well taken care of but there’s something mildly troubling about all of this.

I get needing to go to work and being worried about the bills. But Stanley’s reasoning doesn’t seem like that. It seems more like a sort of acting out via his obsession with work and how disciplined and rigid he must be when it comes to it.

In the army, you learn to shut up and do your job and eat a little crow now and then. It helps.

There’s an old saying: the boss ain’t always right but he’s still the boss.

(p. 183)

If this doesn’t sum up Stanley, I’m not sure what does. Being the boss doesn’t in of itself mean that they should be able to dictate whatever they want. Because at that point, again, the supposed working relationship is much closer to some sort of localized dictatorship or monarchy then anything else. Allegedly the workplace is based upon some sort of equal and freely made contract between employer and employee. But in a way Stanley knows that’s not true, I suppose.

And yes, of course it helps to eat a little crow (no, not that Crow) but that’s only because many institutions in society have crow as their main dish. In fact, they have them for dessert, for the appetizer and for anything else. Crow is just about all you will be eating in many corporations because your input isn’t that highly valued.

I found this interesting:

“I’m going to work for Ford, too” And I say, “Oh, no you ain’t.” And my wife will shut me up and she’ll say, “Why not?” Then I think to myself, “Why not? It’s been good to me.” (p. 185)

Psycho-analysis isn’t really my thing and maybe this is just something Stanley has grown up thinking. The idea that your children (he’s talking about his son in this quote) shouldn’t be doing the same job you’re doing now. That, in some way, they should be doing a better or higher paying job than you are currently. If that happens then it’s all worth it.

Or maybe it’s just because he thinks there is some sort of shame doing what he does. Deep down maybe he thinks society is right that he has some sort of lowly position because he works in a car factory. I don’t know if society (then or now) actually holds that position but that’s just some more speculation.

Either way, I found this interesting. Make of it what you will.

Next thing we see that I want to highlight is Stanley talking about our next interviewee, Gary Bryner. He said of Bryner that they seem to be headstrong and that if he was around that they (Stanley and him) would likely clash a lot.

Let’s see how much that is the case from the man himself.

Gary Bryner (President, Lordstown Local, UAW)

Again, I love the way Terkel designed this book. In many parts of this book we’ll have someone with a certain career say he wants another and immediately after see that other career and how it works. Or we might see someone who doesn’t like someone with a certain career and before to long we get to see the other person’s side of the story.

In this case it’s more of the latter than the former.

I took on a foreman’s job, some six or seven weeks ago and decided that was not my cup of tea.

The one thing they stressed: production first, people second.

One thing sticks in my mind. They put us in an arbitration class in labor relations while we were training. It was a mock case, an umpire hearing. All the people mocking were company people. … I was the only guy of some thirty-odd foreman-to-be who thought the guy was innocent … The others wanted to be pleasing in the eyes of the people that were watching. (p. 188)

Early on Bryner tells a much different story than Brand or Stanley. Though, to those folks credit they are in a different location and I’m sure they’d make the argument that it’s different in Chicago, etc. But in any case Bryner starts off much stronger by immediately noticing how much workers are worth compared to the machines they make.

The biggest reason Terkel is interviewing Bryner is because of an on-going strike situation that pits the union against the management. The reason why Stanley says that they doubt Bryner would get along is in no small part because Bryner has a very different view of the function of management and how it tends to treat workers.

I was very dissatisfied with the way things were going. People being pressured, being forced to run. If a guy didn’t do it they fired his butt. It was a mail-fisted approach by management because everybody was new.

The way they treated us—management made more union people in 1966 and 1967 than the union could ever have thought of making. (p. 188)

I think that second part is really important. It reminds me of my most recent reading at work Hillbilly Nationalist, Urban Race Rebels and Black Power. In it, I see the point quite often that during the 60s and 70s one of the biggest recruiting drives for radicals was huge events like the Vietnam war or notable acts of repression from the state.

Sometimes, the biggest forms of repression can have a recoil effect. But on the other hand, relying on that recoil and people’s inherent sympathy or outrage can be a dangerous game. If you are too reliant on your “enemy” existing then how can you propose alternatives to them and try to transcend that toxic relationship?

I don’t give a shit what anybody says, it was boring monotonous work. I was an inspector and I didn’t actually shoot the screws or tighten the bolts or anything like that. A guy could be there eight hours and there was some other body doing the same job over and over, all day long, all week long, all year long.

Years.

If you thought about it, you’d go stir. (p. 189)

Now here’s one thing I don’t care to think about: All of the hundreds of thousands of people who are doing the same (or similar) job to me and are also infinitely replaceable. It does my heart or head no good to mull over the fact that in just the year in a half I have been working at my retail job I’ve seen at least 10 positions switched around for various reasons.

Heck, even the store manager recently put in his two weeks because he was tired of dealing with his boss. And his boss was so oblivious to it that he sent him an email a few days before he was leaving about the weeks ahead. I can’t think of many more things insulting than not even remembering someone who has been there for so long.

Here’s an interesting commentary on manliness:

Fathers used to show their manliness by being able to work hard and have big, strong muscles and that king of bullshitting story. The young guy now, he doesn’t give a kick out of saying how hard he can work. I think his kick would be just the opposite: “You said I had to do that much, and I only have to do that much. I’m man enough to stand up and fight for what I say I have to do.” It isn’t being manly to do more than you should. That’s the difference between the son and the dad. (p. 189)

This is also the difference between folks like Bryner and Stanley. Whereas Stanley seems to think that manliness comes from constant use of your hands, Bryner sees it more about standing up for yourself and what you want. It isn’t just a blind obedience to the world around you but rather a stronger impulse of self-worth and self-preservation.

Bryner continues:

Fathers felt patriotic about it. They felt obliged to that guy and gave him a job, to do his dirty work.

Whereas the young guy believes he has something to say about what he does. He doesn’t believe that when the foreman says it’s right that it’s right. Hell, he may be ten times more intelligent as this foreman.

If he believes he’s working too hard, he stands up and say so. He doesn’t ask for more money. He says, “I’ll work at a normal place, so I don’t go home tired and sore, a physical wreck. I want to keep my job and my sense.” (p. 189)

Interestingly both Bryner and Stanley agree that a worker won’t ask for more money if it might apply. But according to Bryner they’ll be more likely to speak about how much their working. If you have them working so much then decrease the amount of work so that the pay they get is adequate for that labor.

Although, I think there’s some room to even have an implied question of, “Well, what if we paid you more? Would that make your soreness worth it?” and that really depends on the person in question and how much they need the money.

Let’s get on to the main matter, the strike:

When General Motors Assembly Division came to Lordstown, you might not believe it, but they tried to take the newspaper off the line. The GMAD controls about seventy-five percent of the assembly of cars produced for the corporation. There’s eighteen assembly plants. We’re the newest.

Their idea is to cut costs, be more efficient, take the waste out of working, and all that kind of jazz.

To make another dollar. That’s why the guys labeled GMAD: Gotta Make Another Dollar. (Laughs.)

(p. 190)

Thus, as time went on, the workers were treated more and more mechanically. The managers would use stopwatches to try to measure everything out. How long does a screw take? How deep does it go in? How long does it take for the worker to move from one spot to the other? How can we maximize all of these processes towards the benefit of profit?

As Bryner said before, production is over profit. Bryner compares these kinds of measures to Ford’s first attempts at making the assembly line “automated” through the use of people. But the people aren’t really people. As we see in movies like Modern Times, workers are better describes as automatons working at the behest of automated rhythm.

Eventually managers tried to get the workers to make 100 cars an hour where they were previously trying to get 72 done an hour. They tried to argue that they had these “unimates” that made the process much easier. Bryner argues back that even if the unimates don’t perspire or complain they also don’t buy cars.

Eventually push came to shove over working conditions and:

There was a strike. It came after about four or five months of agitation by management. when GMAD took over the plant, we had about a hundred grievances. They moved in, and where we had settled a grievance, they violated ’em. They took and laid off people. They said they didn’t need ’em.

We had over fourteen hundred grievances under procedure prior to strike. It’s a two-shift operation, same job, so you’re talking about twenty-eight hundred people with fourteen hundred grievances. (p. 191)

What happened was akin to a slowdown and all that was asked of was the prior pace of work.

Eventually defective products were being made and the workers constantly called this out and got the international union to “blast the hell out of them” (p. 192) which eventually this made GMAD let up. They’re still at the pace GMAD wants but they have the people back who were laid off, so it’s more doable.

Lastly:

The idea is not to run the plant. I don’t think they’d know what to do with it. they don’t want to tell the company what to do, but simply have something to say about what they’re going to do. They just want to be treated with dignity. That’s not asking for a hell of a lot. (p. 193)

It’s not, and that’s the problem.


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