Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Remembrance of factories past

I was arguing with an Ayn Rand fan about the plausibility of the Twentieth Century Motor Company scenario in Atlas Shrugged. I suggested that the set-up had nothing to do with socialism, since Rand suggests that the real reason for socialism is basically sadism.

The Rand fan insisted that the whole thing was true because it demonstrated how socialism saps a person's spirit yadda yadda yadda. Your typical Libertarian idealizes capitalism so much, they seem to believe the only time workers are ever mistreated is under socialism. As if a sadist manager couldn't make life miserable for workers with no trouble at all under a free market system.

Ayn Rand did work a couple of shit jobs, but mostly she worked as a screenwriter, and once she had a hit with the novel The Fountainhead she not only supported herself through her literary endeavors the rest of her life, she supported her husband Frank O'Connor financially until his death. Although she used to pretend he was a serious painter, or would sometimes say he was "on strike."

Part of the problem is that most Rand fans are from the upper classes and have never themselves worked in a factory, and so have no idea. This got me thinking about the two factories I worked in, back in my youth. I decided to Google them and see what they were up to.

The Atco Knitting Mills Inc., in Atco New Jersey appears to be a toxic Superfund site now. I guess it's no longer operational but I couldn't find anything online confirming that. But I assume that kind of work is now done in China or elsewhere outside the US. 

The most depressing thing is that when you search for Atco Knitting Mills you find all these obituaries for women who worked decades in that hellhole. Like, for instance Carmella "Chubby" Civa:
Chubby was a lifelong resident of Atco and worked at the Atco Knitting Mill for over 40 years.
Which means she was working there at the same time I was there. I didn't get to know anybody though, so I wouldn't remember her, and it was a pretty big factory. But dear god, how could anybody work there for 40 years? I barely survived 4 days with my sanity intact. The endless, mindless repetition was maddening. And this was a union shop (International Ladies Garment Workers Union) although I didn't stay long enough to make membership. But even under the best of conditions, factory work is hard, boring crap work.

A few years after that I worked for a company in Camden New Jersey, Decalcomania, Inc. It appears to have gone bankrupt. Not a union shop, it was run by the Burton family - I knew the son and his wife, and they were singularly unpleasant people who treated the employees with contempt. I worked in almost every capacity at Decalcomania, from doing art paste-up to dark room image development to working on the factory floor doing sorting and packing to working at the front desk. I worked there longer than I worked at the Atco Knitting Mills, although that's not a very high bar. I eked out maybe a year and a half there before I headed for the greener pastures of Linda's Driving School and never worked in a factory again. Although I've had office jobs that were even more demeaning, where I was treated unfairly by managers, and sabotaged a couple of times by coworkers.

So I have to laugh when I see people claiming that only under socialism are workers ever mistreated. Horrible people exist under any economic system. Or as an ex-boyfriend of mine used to say, "the tiniest speck of power corrupts absolutely."