Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

    I was seven years old the first time I ever set foot inside an automobile factory. The occasion was
    Family Night at the old Fisher Body plant in Flint where my father worked the second shift. General
    Motors provided this yearly intrusion as an opportunity for the kin of the work force to funnel in
    and view their fathers, husbands, and granddads as they toiled away on the assembly line...we
    found my old man down on the trim line. His job was to install windshields using this goofy
    apparatus with large suction cups that resembles an octopus being crucified...Car, windshield. Car,
    windshield. No wonder my father preferred playin' hopscotch with barmaids. This kind of repetition
    didn't look like any fun at all...Thank God that, even at age seven, I knew what I was going to be
    when I grew up. There wouldn't be any car windshield cha-cha awaiting me. I was going to be an
    ambulance driver, the most glamorous calling in the world.

Well, you guessed it, Ben Hamper's prediction proved wrong and he spent ten years in the 70's and 80's on a General Motors assembly line in Flint, MI--a "shoprat" like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.  And he very much wants us to feel his pain.  The work is boring, bosses are blockheads, workplace regulations are assinine--he's right,  it all seems soul deadening.  Except for one inconvenient, but unavoidable, fact that runs through the story--Ben Hamper made an awful lot of money & did almost no work.  He meanders through his work days in a haze of drugs and alcohol, doubles up on his incredibly easy job with a partner so that they can alternate days working, and when he gets laid off, Jimmy Carter comes up with a bonus program (because of unfair competition from the Japanese) that ends up paying him more than when he was working.  The whole book is a clinical study of why American industry had to be downsized.

That, of course, was not Hamper's purpose in writing the book; he wanted to demonstrate that GM was a shop of horrors.  And it must be said that the book is so funny and he is such a perceptive critic of the bureaucratic mess that the auto industry had become, that he nearly succeeds in winning our sympathy.  But in the final analysis, his failure to reckon with the fact that labor, far from being a powerless and put upon victim, was a significant part of the problem, detracts from the persuasive power of his argument and reduces it to a mere polemic, albeit a very funny one.


Grade: (B-)


Book-related and General Links:
    -REVIEW: Balled and Chained to General Motors (Verlyn Klinkenborg, NY Times Book Review)
    -Union Communication Services (steward advice, labor news, graphics and books that help progressive union leaders rally their members and build their unions)