The following is an account of work in a large Midlands cigarette factory. Its author, d.j., is 31, married and with a baby daughter. He has worked in the same factory for 15 years, apart from two years National Service. ‘I belong to no organizations at all—though perhaps I should,’ he says. This is the first time he has written any thing for publication.
I work in a factory. For eight hours a day, five days a week, I’m the exception to the rule that life can’t exist in a vacuum. Work to me is a void, and I begrudge every precious minute of my time that it takes. When writing about work I become bitter, bloody-minded and self-pitying, and I find difficulty in being objective. I can’t tell you much about my job because I think it would be misleading to try to make something out of nothing; but as I write I am acutely aware of the effect that my working environment has upon my attitude towards work and leisure and lite in general.
My working-day starts with that time-honoured ritual known as ‘clocking-in’. In a job such as mine this is one of the more constructive acts of the day. For the uninitiated : a lever is pressed and, in blue ink, a time is recorded on one’s card. It’s so mechanical that one expects the time to be always the same. But it isn’t. Just have the effrontery to be late: then you will find that your time has been stamped in red ink. The management may condone bad timekeeping, but that blasted clock seems to shed blood in anguish.
After clocking-in one starts work. Starts work, that is, if the lavatories are full. In an hourly paid job it pays to attend to the calls of nature in the firm’s time. After the visit to the lavatory there is the tea-break to look forward to; after the tea-break the dinner-break; after the dinner-break the ‘knocking-off’ time. Work is done between the breaks, but it is done from habit and is given hardly a passing thought. Nothing is gained from the work itself—it has nothing to offer. The criterion is not to do a job well, but to get it over with quickly. Trouble is, one never does get it over with. Either one job is followed by another which is equally boring, or the same job goes on and on for ever: particles of production that stretch into an age of inconsequence. There is never a sense of fullfilment.
Time, rather than content, is the measure of factory life. Time is what the factory worker sells: not labour, not skill, but time, dreary time. Desolate factory time that passes so slowly compared with the fleeting
People who speak grandiosely of the ‘meaning of work’ should spend a year or two in a factory. The modern worker neither gives anything to work nor expects anything (apart from his wages) from it. Work, at factory level, has no inherent value. The worker’s one interest is his pay-packet. The accent on money is understandable—after all, we are shorter of it than most. In a factory basic wage rates are usually low. Not that the management can’t afford to pay more: indeed, they do pay more—but not on the basic rate. Those last few £s that bring one a little nearer the elusive ‘national average wage’ have to be earned under pressure. By incentive schemes, piecework, bonus, merit-pay, call it what you will, the worker is introduced to the spirit of free enterprise competition. A wage to be earned becomes a prize to be won. Payment by results they call it. And the result of the result is yet another rise in the profits.