outlook is bleak for industrial workers in a postindustrial society.
Dan Gordon ‘85
illustrator by Marc Rosenthal
out of high school, Edward Salerno took a job on the assembly line
at General Motors in Linden, N.J. There was nowhere else that an
unskilled worker like Salerno (not his real name) could find such
good pay and benefits. But after eight years, he traded his economic
security for a measure of dignity and accepted a buyout offer from
there was very belittling," he told UCLA sociologist Ruth Milkman,
who studies labor trends. "It seemed like they were always trying
to play games with you, always trying to degrade you.” Among the
complaints: Workers had to ask permission before going to the bathroom.
Supervisors were verbally abusive. One employee, who hadn't missed
a day in more than six years, was discouraged from visiting his
baby niece in the hospital after she was hurt in an accident.
"Farewell to the Factory: Auto Workers in the Late Twentieth Century"
(University of California Press), Milkman paints a disturbing portrait
of the plight of industrial workers in a postindustrial society.
The combination of unrelenting regimentation, inhumane supervision
and a lack of interest in their input left even the well-paid workers
in Milkman’s study comparing the factory to a prison, a yearning
compile her case study, Milkman was given access to the GM-Linden
plant in the mid-1980s. It was a tumultuous period for labor: The
American auto industry was struggling to cope with international
competition, while unions, including the once-powerful United Auto
Workers, were starting a precipitous decline.