Life lessons learned on the assembly line

177212751_709001fb7eToday is Labor Day, which has been observed in the United States and Canada since 1894. It commemorates the accomplishments of working people, so, naturally, we celebrate by taking the day off from work.

This may be because of our deep ambivalence about work. There is the money and the mostly pleasant and intelligent people we work with. But then there is the down side of work–some would even call it the dark side.

Like the job I got one summber working on the assembly line at a tie factory. I was a tie-packer, packing ties in boxes and packing those boxes into bigger boxes. That part was a piece of cake.

The quality control aspect of the job was something else again. The ties were pressed by women standing on their feet all day, sweating as they leaned over ironing boards with hot, heavy irons. They put cardboard forms into the ties to get out any wrinkles, and they had to do this without ironing in any creases.

I was a 19 year-old college student, and I took my responsibilities seriously. So the first time—the very first time—I found a crease in a tie, I went to the presser and showed it to her. She looked at the tie, then she looked at me.

She gripped the iron very tightly but said nothing. She didn’t have to; I had a strong sense that she wanted nothing more than to lift that iron and smash it into my eager young face.

Needless to say, I rapidly lost interest in the quality control aspects of the job. At the end of the summer, I asked my mother to call the tie factory and say that I couldn’t work there anymore. She said that, unfortunately, I’d come down with mononucleosis.  And back I went to college.

For me, it’s been uphill ever since: challenging work, decent pay and benefits, and mostly pleasant and helpful co-workers. But I’ll never forget the silent, hostile look on that woman’s face as she clutched the hot iron not so far away from my face.

Happy holiday to all.

photo by oddsock

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Madeleine Kolb 09/21/2009, 10:07 am

    Kye, It is sad. Even at 19, I was aware that some people have so much opportunity and others, so little. It’s sad, too, to see people with opportunity and potential lose their way because of drinking or drugs or other causes.

  • Kye 09/17/2009, 7:55 am

    My heart goes out to the woman with the iron. So much suffering in the world! …and so hard for us to know how to respond to it.

  • Madeleine Kolb 09/09/2009, 8:45 am

    @ jai kai
    Thanks for the comment. I think there are various lessons to be learned from working jobs like these. For me, it was a real appreciation of my options. This was a temporary situation. I knew that, and I’m fairly certain that my co-workers knew it too.

    And that explains all (or part) of the hostility: I could walk away at the end of the summer to continue my education while they stayed there year after year doing hard, uncomfortable, low-paid work.

  • Jai Kai - 09/09/2009, 6:37 am

    It is amazing how much we have evolved since those first jobs. My first job was packing boxes(for a courier company) in the back of trucks – in a warehouse filled with exhaust from all the trucks – not a great experience – but i choose it then
    Thanks for sharing and my appreciation to all those who work jobs in poor labour conditions.

  • JS Dixon 09/08/2009, 4:13 am

    That job sounds like no fun at all.