So after that underwhelming launch, I find myself wondering where to begin with this commentary. There is so much to explore, so many human realities contained within the scope of ‘working in auto’ that it’s difficult to know where to start. I was talking to my mother (my wisest, wildest mentor and one of the great thinker-activists of our time) and I was commenting that so much of the economy and culture of Michigan makes sense to me now that I have taken my place among the millions of people here ekeing out a living in the auto industry.
I understand now the fathers who came home from 10 and 12-hour days in the factories and just wanted a cold beer and some peace and quiet. I understand the desire, even the need, to have a cottage Up North, when a body spends 40, 50, 60 hours a week in the plant. Away from sun, away from the stars, away from nature. I understand, for the first time ever, the desire for…a new car. I drive an old, beat up import because it was cheap and gets 30 mpg. I want a new car now, because I build them. I want a new car now because it pains me to see new cars and be told that I can’t even sit in them.
I understand now the stories of gambling, drug-running, affairs, and all the human weaknesses that I heard as a kid about life in the plant. I understand the desire to act out, to be our most human. Work in the factory is necessarily de-humanizing. The whole point of the work is that anyone can do it, even a damned robot. But a robot won’t crack a joke, won’t compliment you, won’t make you wonder what it would be like to sit and have a beer with it. A robot won’t take up a collection for its co-worker when a loved one is lost. A robot won’t take up for its co-worker, period. A robot has no sense of solidarity or brotherhood. So maybe that’s where I’ll start. I’ll start with the human beings, and how we are to one another in the face of this behemoth, this cruelest and most beloved taskmaster — the American Auto Industry. That’s all for now, I still have to see my son before I go back into the abyss. Another night of overtime, another night of cursed, beautiful work.
Stepchild in the Promised Land