Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line by Ben Hamper
rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ben Hamper worked on the production line of the General Motors bus and truck plant in Flint, Michigan from 1977 to 1988, and wrote about the experience in this book. It is a rambling and often funny account of mind-numbingly dull work, schemes employed by the workers to make it less dull, and the equally inane managerial schemes to, well, manage. Witness Howie Makem, the "Quality Cat" mascot, an actor in a cat costume showing up at various intervals to get the workers to produce higher-quality vehicles.
The books should be required reading for business school students (and is in some courses) showing the sometimes vast difference between the managerial and worker view of the world. Hamper ridicules the ways of top management, while at the same time showing how, with relatively little effort (such as, when the factory in-house magazine reports that a country music singer was going to buy one of their cars, Hamper wants to know which car it would be and realizing that that was the first time he ever heard anything about who the customer was). In the end, the dull and hard work: Hamper develops anxiety attacks and eventually drops out from the assembly line. You kind of suspect it is from under-use of his brain – he likens it to forever dropping out of high school, staying in suspended animation in a never-ending adolescence, seeking relief in alcohol and mindless games.
Highly recommended because it offers a different view of things, sorely needed as something of a counterweight to all the starry-eyed management books out there. And it leaves you wondering, as Hamper does: If not the assembly line, what else can a middle-aged autoworker with no marketable skills do? Hamper can write and do auto shows. Most of his colleagues, you suspect, cannot. Given the current state of General Motors (at present, bankruptcy seems inevitable within a year) this is a question of more than fleeting interest for a sizeable portion of the US workforce.