Rivethead Social Issues of Work

Ben Hampers book Rivethead; Tales From The Assembly
Line is a gritty in your face account of a factory workers
struggles against his factory, his co-workers, and the time
clock. Hamper makes no apologies for any of his actions,
many of which were unorthodox or illegal. Instead he
justifies them in a way that makes the factory workers
strife apparent to those who have never set foot on an
assembly line and wouldn’t have the vaguest idea how much
blood, sweat and tears go into the products we take for
granted everyday.
Rivethead is an account of the entire life of Author
Ben Hamper, from his long family lineage of “shoprats” and
his catholic school upbringing to his numerous different
positions on the General Motors assembly line and his
equally numerous lay-offs from the GM Truck & Bus Division.
Unfortunately the many years of back breaking labor combined
with Hampers own personal demons led him to check into an
outpatient mental facility (at the time of the completion of
this book) where he learns daily to cope with his many years
of mental anguish.
Rivethead is a social commentary on industrial America,
assembly line work , and the auto industry. This essay,
however, will focus on the more specific aspects
Hamper considers, such as the monotony required on a (then)
modern assembly line, the relationship and hierarchy among
workers and their interaction with management as well as
both collective and individual responses to work and job
satisfaction (or lack there of).

When Henry Ford first developed the idea of the
assembly line he was heralded as one of the most forward
thinking men of his time, and without the assembly line we
would no doubt not be as powerful a nation as we are today.
The assembly line principle as it matured in industrial
society however, proved to destroy workers creativity and
stifle 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 day
out, without ever having any knowledge or input into any of
the other tasks related to completion of the project. This
monotony in the workplace spills over into the daily life of
many factory workers and affects how they live their life
outside of the factory after the whistle blows as much as it
does while they’re on the assembly line. This spillover was
observed by Hamper of his Grandfather. “Straight home from
work, dinner, the evening news and immediately into bed at
7:00 p.m. He arose each weekday at 3:30 a.m., fixed himself
some black coffee, turned on the kitchen radio, smoked a
handful of Lucky Strikes and waited to leave for work at a
quarter to five. This regimen never varied one iota in the
forty years he worked for GM” (Hamper pg.6). It is fairly
clear that the monotony of the assembly line has a way of
setting personal routines for it’s workers that eventually
work their way out of the factory and into the home. One
interesting question that is raised, is whether people who
like their life to be routinized eventually find their way
to an assembly line or if the assembly line monotony brings
the propensity to routinize out in people who previously did
not live by many routines.
The relationships Hamper discusses between the workers
on the assembly line are unique to say the least and
sometimes comical or dangerous. After reading this book I
would surmise that most factory workers build friendships
with 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 virtue
of the timing of their shifts (as was Hampers case). I think
one thing that helped to bind the workers together was the
fact that they saw it as workers against management and by
their solidarity they could turn the balance of power in
their favor. This solidarity was visible when a new
supervisor was hired who wasn’t cutting the workers any
slack, so the workers resorted to sabotage. “We simply had
no other recourse. Sometimes these power-gods had to be
reminded that it was we, the workers, who kept this place
runnin’” (Hamper pg.206). Relationships between workers were
generally very good, although there was a hierarchy among
the 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 he
could be fired for any reason. Not all of Hamper’s
co-workers saw eye to eye with him when it came to his