Ben Hampers book Rivethead; Tales From The AssemblyLine is a gritty in your face account of a factory workersstruggles against his factory, his co-workers, and the timeclock. Hamper makes no apologies for any of his actions,many of which were unorthodox or illegal. Instead hejustifies them in a way that makes the factory workersstrife apparent to those who have never set foot on anassembly line and wouldnt have the vaguest idea how muchblood, sweat and tears go into the products we take forRivethead is an account of the entire life of AuthorBen Hamper, from his long family lineage of shoprats andhis catholic school upbringing to his numerous differentpositions on the General Motors assembly line and hisequally numerous lay-offs from the GM Truck & Bus Division. Unfortunately the many years of back breaking labor combinedwith Hampers own personal demons led him to check into anoutpatient mental facility (at the time of the completion ofthis book) where he learns daily to cope with his many yearsRivethead is a social commentary on industrial America,assembly line work , and the auto industry. This essay,however, will focus on the more specific aspectsHamper considers, such as the monotony required on a (then)modern assembly line, the relationship and hierarchy amongworkers and their interaction with management as well asboth collective and individual responses to work and jobWhen Henry Ford first developed the idea of theassembly line he was heralded as one of the most forwardthinking men of his time, and without the assembly line wewould no doubt not be as powerful a nation as we are today.
The assembly line principle as it matured in industrialsociety however, proved to destroy workers creativity andstifle the very essence of human life. Growth and change. On an assembly line workers are degraded to automatons,performing the same tasks over and over and over. Day in dayout, without ever having any knowledge or input into any ofthe other tasks related to completion of the project.
Thismonotony in the workplace spills over into the daily life ofmany factory workers and affects how they live their lifeoutside of the factory after the whistle blows as much as itdoes while theyre on the assembly line. This spillover wasobserved by Hamper of his Grandfather. Straight home fromwork, dinner, the evening news and immediately into bed at7:00 p. m. He arose each weekday at 3:30 a. m.
, fixed himselfsome black coffee, turned on the kitchen radio, smoked ahandful of Lucky Strikes and waited to leave for work at aquarter to five. This regimen never varied one iota in theforty years he worked for GM (Hamper pg. 6). It is fairlyclear that the monotony of the assembly line has a way ofsetting personal routines for its workers that eventuallywork their way out of the factory and into the home.
Oneinteresting question that is raised, is whether people wholike their life to be routinized eventually find their wayto an assembly line or if the assembly line monotony bringsthe propensity to routinize out in people who previously didThe relationships Hamper discusses between the workerson the assembly line are unique to say the least andsometimes comical or dangerous. After reading this book Iwould surmise that most factory workers build friendshipswith other factory workers almost exclusively. This could be due to their similarity of interests, similarity of jobs,the fact that they are in contact daily, or just by virtueof the timing of their shifts (as was Hampers case). I thinkone thing that helped to bind the workers together was thefact that they saw it as workers against management and bytheir solidarity they could turn the balance of power intheir favor.
This solidarity was visible when a newsupervisor was hired who wasnt cutting the workers anyslack, so the workers resorted to sabotage. We simply hadno other recourse. Sometimes these power-gods had to bereminded that it was we, the workers, who kept this placerunnin (Hamper pg. 206). Relationships between workers weregenerally very good, although there was a hierarchy amongthe workers between the new guys and the experienced guys. Franklin.
. . made a career out of intimidating rookies(Hamper pg. 51) because until a worker had put in 90 days hecould be fired for any reason. Not all of Hampersco-workers saw eye to eye with him when it came to hiscolumn in the Flint Voice.