An account of a factory strike

A brief account of sabotage and a strike at a factory in the United States by Nick, an assembly line worker

I worked for a year in a typical World War II-style plant with a saw tooth tin roof and smoke stacks billowing oily gray smoke. There were 1,000 of us poor bastards working there, doing mind less arm and wrist repetitions thousands of times per day, producing a basic industrial product.

The accident rate was enormous. Our sign out front read IT'S BEEN______ DAYS SINCE OUR LAST ACCIDENT. It had no number on it as it would be too embarrassing. Almost every day there was a work-time lost accident. There were three shifts a day and most of the accidents happened in the wee hours of the morning, say just after your 4:00 am lunchtime of chili con came served warm in the can from a vending machine. The nurse was only on duty during day hours, when no one got hurt.

One time a co-worker got his leg jammed in a machine. The foreman pulled me off the line and ordered me to take him to the hospital; an ambulance cost too much. I ran to get my car and drove around town looking for the damn hospital, which I had never been to before, while my buddy moaned in deep pain. Once there, I helped him out to the emergency room and they took him away. I had to stay up front to fill out the papers. When I told the admitting nurse where we were from, I didn't even have to sign anything. She said, "We have an open account with your company."

This was a union shop and contract negotiations were on. The contract expired and the big union bosses told us to work without a contract. We walked instead. To prepare for the walkout, it was essential to plan ahead. Production went way down so as not to have a big stock of finished goods. The last shift to work before the walk-out had a myriad of mechanical problems. It was uncanny. The laser quality assurance probes started breaking, their bloody red eyes getting skewed every which way. The box machines started getting jammed and glue was dripping all over the conveyor belts. Forklifts were falling apart, parts from them disappearing mysteriously. Finally, with the factory so disabled, we walked off the job. The next shift was massed by the main gate, cheering, taunting the bosses and pleased at not having to cross the gate and enter the monstrous plant. The international union boss and the company boss ordered us back, but no one balked. Out of 1,000 people perhaps seven went back, and we took their pictures for future shame.

During the strike, the management desperately needed to truck the warehoused goods to market. Often, however, dump trucks of broken concrete would get dumped in front of the plant gates, preventing the big tractor trailers from entering. Despite not having strike benefits (the union had declared our strike illegal) and no unemployment benefits (the company lawyers got it cut off), we stayed out for a month until we won the strike.

This is an edited extract from Sabotage in the American Workplace by Martin Sprouse

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Posted By

Dec 29 2005 20:11


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