Work

‘If you didn’t dream at work it would send you mad. The whole bench is like this, a galley of automatons locked in dreams.’ Without dreams a production-line worker is not ‘in the swing of it’, does less than his stint. It is not escapism, but part of the rhythm required by the machine process which invades even the innermost privacy. BS, 33, an aeu member, is a panel-beater on a line producing the tractors which a technician described in our last work article.

We go in at seven-thirty. To get to our shop you go down a flight of stairs, and at the top of them someone has written happy valley. It is part of an enormous factory with a population of eight thousand. We start working on our line at about eight o’clock, after we have had a drink of tea and a look at the papers.

There are nine benches down the line, a man standing at each. We make all the tractor parts in our shop. On our line we panel-beat the hoods, each man doing his part of the work and then manhandling it on to the next man, and so on, until it gets to me. We do two hundred and sixty hoods a day, and it only takes me two minutes to do my bit of it, though I was timed for ten minutes by the time-study man. When there aren’t enough hoods to make up our two hundred and sixty a day we ‘borrow’ from the next day—and then forget the next day that we have borrowed them.

The worst kind of foreman you can have is the one who has worked himself up from the bench, because he knows all the dodges, yet if it was a few years since he worked himself up there are a few up-to-date dodges he does not know. And anyway it’s strange how soon he forgets them when he’s no longer one of us. We work on our own time, at a piece-work rate. When each man was timed on the job recently two or three got less money for each hood. That was when the trouble started. So to be fair among ourselves we ended up by all pooling the job, so that no man would walk out with less money than another. This came about by a sort of ‘spontaneous agreement’—which is the only way I can describe it. It isn’t an uncommon thing though, and I know it happens on other jobs whenever it is possible. We also get four shillings an hour bonus, and that added to our piecework.