Sabotage in the American Workplace
Assembly Line Worker Bank Teller Bicycle Messenger Bus Boy Carburetor Assembler Coil Winder Combine Driver Copy Shop Clerk Discount Chain Store Stock Clerk Demolition Worker Hospital Personnel Liquor Company Shipping Clerk Machinist Mail Handler Mailroom Clerk Mill Worker Palletizer Pineapple Packer Records Clerk Stock Broker University Maintenance Worker
ASSEMBLYLINE WORKER NICK
I worked for a year in a typical World War 11-style plant with a saw tooth tin roof and smoke stacks billowing oily gray smoke. There were 1,000 of us poor bastards working there, doing mind less arm and wrist repetitions thousands of times per day, producing a basic industrial product.
The accident rate was enormous. Our sign out front read IT'S BEEN______ DAYS SINCE OUR LAST ACCIDENT. It had no number on it as it would be too embarrassing. Almost every day there was a work-time lost accident. There were three shifts a day and most of the accidents happened in the wee hours of the morning, say just after your 4:00 am lunchtime of chili con came served warm in the can from a vending machine. The nurse was only on duty during day hours, when no one got hurt.
One time a co-worker got his leg jammed in a machine. The foreman pulled me off the line and ordered me to take him to the hospital; an ambulance cost too much. I ran to get my car and drove around town looking for the damn hospital, which I had never been to before, while my buddy moaned in deep pain. Once there, I helped him out to the emergency room and they took him away. I had to stay up front to fill out the papers. When I told the admitting nurse where we were from, I didn't even have to sign anything. She said, "We have an open account with your company."
This was a union shop and contract negotiations were on. The contract expired and the big union bosses told us to work without a contract. We walked instead. To prepare for the walkout, it was essential to plan ahead. Production went way down so as not to have a big stock of finished goods. The last shift to work before the walk-out had a myriad of mechanical problems. It was uncanny. The laser quality assurance probes started breaking, their bloody red eyes getting skewed every which way. The box machines started getting jammed and glue was dripping all over the conveyor belts. Forklifts were falling apart, parts from them disappearing mysteriously. Finally, with the factory so disabled, we walked off the job. The next shift was massed by the main gate, cheering, taunting the bosses and pleased at not having to cross the gate and enter the monstrous plant. The international union boss and the company boss ordered us back, but no one balked. Out of 1,000 people perhaps seven went back, and we took their pictures for future shame.
During the strike, the management desperately needed to truck the warehoused goods to market. Often, however, dump trucks of broken concrete would get dumped in front of the plant gates, preventing the big tractor trailers from entering. Despite not having strike benefits (the union had declared our strike illegal) and no unemployment benefits (the company lawyers got it cut off), we stayed out for a month until we won the strike.
BANK TELLER JASON
I was sick of starving so I needed a job. I walked into the California Employment Development Department and this was posted on the wall: "Be a bank teller. We'll train you." I didn't have any experience at all. I just went in and took an aptitude and math test and aced them both. Then I went to a week of teller school that was run by Bank of America. They taught me how to count money, handle irate people, and what to do if someone pulled a gun on me.
The job was okay. It was just a job but I was getting paid more money than I had ever been paid before. I ended up working there for a little more than a year. There wasn't that much job pressure at first, but then there was this weird reorganization. I started out working part time, but then they had me doing other work and paid me at a lower rate for these extra hours. I was working full time but classified as part time so I wound up making less but working more. I got kind of tired of working full time but I was told that if I wanted to keep my job I would have to keep working those hours — they refused to hire me full time.
This is when I put the word out to my friends that I would cash any check, just come on down. So over the course of a couple of days, there was a stream of people who had forged checks, or had scammed them somehow and I cashed them. The next day was the busiest day of the year for that particular branch: a Friday, the first of October, payday for welfare, Social Security, San Francisco General, MUNI, the City, and private business. The line was out the door. I just didn't show up. My soon-to-be-wife, who also worked there with me, didn't show up either. We were the two best tellers at the bank and we were also the only ones who spoke English as our first language. It just wrecked that branch. I think that did more damage than all of the bad checks that I'd cashed. I never went back. They tried to call but we didn't answer the phone for a week.
Eventually all those checks came back as bad. I knew that if you steal from a bank from the inside, you'll never be prosecuted because it hurts the bank's reputation. So I didn't think twice about doing what I did. I did it to get even, which I don't think really happened, but it did make me feel better.
BICYCLE MESSENGER KENNY
Being a bike messenger in Seattle is hellish, but we had it kind of cush. We had to work our butts off, but at least we got paid by the hour.
The company always let us wear shorts, but since we had to wear company T-shirts, we cut off the sleeves. All of a sudden the company decided to clean up its image because they were dealing with big businesses. They started making us wear long pants and shirts made of heavy material, which is insane. Try biking ten miles up hills, up massive hills with heavy packages as fast as you can, in long pants!
All of the messengers agreed there was no way this could continue. We all decided that we wouldn't wash our clothes at all and that we'd wear the same thing every day. We also realized that the intense heat you build up when you bike, mixed with the right food, means you're farting all the time. So we found the right type of food that caused the worst type of explosions, and whenever we were in a big office building, we farted. You can imagine what it was like when one of us was in an elevator with ten business people in suits. Our clothes were stinking, our bodies were stinking and within a month the company had enough complaints to let us wear shorts again.
BUS BOY CHUCK
I worked at a seafood restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where we had to wear ridiculous outfits. They were these big, blue polyester sailor suits that had big, white bell-bottom pants and a French sailor hat that had a little red fuzz ball on top. All the little old ladies who ate there thought we were cute. It was horrible: the suit made us sweat and we felt completely embarrassed.
1 worked there with a lot of my friends and we were all bus boys. We were on the low end of the totem pole. The waitresses were cheesing us for the tips. We were supposed to get a certain percentage but we rarely got anything. The guy that ran the place had a horrible temper which he took out on us, so, needless to say, we had a lot of animosity towards the place.
The restaurant was famous for its desserts. The little old ladies liked to eat these massive napoleons and big cheesecakes. We had this game called "Search and Destroy." When the waitresses weren't looking or were turned away from the counter, we would run back into the kitchen, grab as many of these desserts as possible, take them back to the dishwashing area, and totally dig into them with our hands, filling our mouths and eating them as fast as we could. Then we'd throw the dish in the dishwasher to destroy the evidence.
I worked there for four months wearing that little hat. I used to take it off and hide it, but then the owner would ask me, "Where's your uniform?" I'd pull out the hat and put it back on. One time the owner wanted us to work on New Year's Eve and we were all at someone's house, saying how we were tired of it. We sat there burning our little hats and just being totally disgusted with the job. We all decided to quit at the same time, that same day, on New Year's Eve. We left him completely short-handed. That was the best thing, sticking it to that guy on one of the busiest days of the year. We had a permanent workers' strike!
CARBURETOR ASSEMBLER EUGENE
It's common to hear people complain about American cars breaking down and having problems; there's always some goddamn thing wrong with them. It's almost always internal, and they have to take the car back to the shop and figure out what's wrong with it. It's not an accident or a fluke. These machines are designed by engineers who know what they're doing. They're precise. It's the people putting them together who aren't quite as precise as the engineers would like them to be.
I worked manufacturing carburetors in Detroit. There was one particular carburetor that you could place a BB in and it was there for life. The only way you could see it was if you x-rayed it. The only way to fix it was to replace the carburetor. It would be an intermit tent problem with your carburetor you'd never know when it was going to strike. Usually it would hit you when you were going downhill.
Anytime we got a chance to do internal parts, like a carburetor, we would screw them up purposely. We would put in bolts that were the wrong size. We would do anything we could to make the carburetors dysfunctional. We did this to as many carburetors as possible.
I inspired and taught many others. They were bored out of their minds. It was such a relief for them to take that screwdriver and damage that part internally, knowing that no one would know they did it.
The goal was to wreak the most blatant destruction without getting caught. The most insidious thing, of course, was dealing with internal parts of engines and inside door panels. Workers might take a pair of pliers and pop off just one cog on the end of the plastic crank. There's a gear inside that's plastic and when you roll the window up and the cog is popped off; eventually that window won't work. With wiring and electronic parts, you could do countless things so that initially it works, but later on you'll have problems. You can't find out the source of the problem, who did it, or how it happened. That's the beauty of it.
Sabotage is different than revenge because it's a means by which you can express yourself and free yourself from oppression and dehumanization. You aren't attacking a person, you're dealing with an issue. It's satisfying to know that you're causing long- term problems for the industry. For the first time in my life, I saw other people like me who were drudging through life, making pretty good money and benefits, but whose lives were shit. Being human is so wonderful. If we're pushed apart from that, we tend to struggle because you can't be human in America and work in industry.
When you work for the auto industry, profit is number one. Although they say they're not doing it anymore, they've cut back on quality. They're trying to compete with Japan, but the only way to do that is to treat the most important person in the industry -- the worker -- as a human being.
They don't treat you like a human being, they treat you like a robot, and your function is to produce the profit. You're dehumanized. The carburetors were our way of equalizing the situation.
I caused a lot of damage. Not only did I teach and encourage others to do it, I caused many Americans strife and heartache and taught them the lesson not to buy from that particular company. The auto industry got a bad rap because of it. The fear and dissatisfaction from driving a car that breaks down all the time are going to stick.
COIL WINDER JAY
While working as a coil winder in a big transformer factory, we workers faced the dehumanizing "science" known as Minutes Times Motion, which is where a computer estimates how long it should take to complete a task such as building a transformer. Every day, we would check the number and type of transformers built, and at the end of the week we would get a computer- generated analysis of our efficiency rate. If we "beat the clock," we would get a happy face on our evaluation report. A frown face would mean that we were just not up to par, as far as our computer was concerned.
To get a grip on this bad situation, especially in a non-union plant, we required a total conspiracy amongst workers. Starting with the guy I knew the best, we each agreed to slow down production on one of the transformer types. We each handed in approximately the same number of units as our co-workers. After a few frowning faces on our monthly reports and a talking-to by the supervisor, the management had to readjust their computer time accordingly. It makes management look bad to have a product constantly come in under production goals. Adjusting to our new time made them come out around 100 percent again. This victory encouraged other assemblers to do the same, with equally good results.
As we became faster at winding, we would overproduce and thus we would have to store some units in our lockers. We soon saw the wisdom of having a bank of units, in case we didn't want to work as hard one day, or a friend needed one because they messed one up. We earned more free time at work, and were still working at 100 percent, as far as management was concerned.
COMBINE DRIVER TAD
I got a job with a custom cutter, the people who follow the wheat harvest from Texas on up to North Dakota every summer. The combines we were using were a new model series on loan from International Harvester. A fleet of eight or ten of us went along in a big row through the fields and checked out the new models to see how they were performing.
We were all pretty young, between fourteen and twenty-two, and would rather flick off than sit on these things for twelve hours a day. Once or twice a week we would slug the combine, which means we'd cause the combine to feed up so much material that it would bind up the cylinder inside the machine. We would shut down two or three machines. Then they would set them aside and take us off the field. International Harvester representatives would come out, tear apart the machines, and try and figure out what the fuck was going on.
We did this intentionally so we could slack off. We got a kick out of these guys with ties and clipboards going over the machine. We thought this was tremendously funny because they seemed very concerned since they had millions of dollars at stake. It was beyond them to think that we would do something like that because, like most employers, they thought their employees were a lot dumber than they really were. I think this is true for most non-unionized, off-the-street labor. They generally assume that you will never pull any stunts. Everybody on the job was in cahoots together. We got to sit around in hotel rooms while they looked over the machines.
COPY SHOP CLERK ALAN
I've never dealt with so many fucked-up managers as when I started working at a busy, downtown Minneapolis copy shop. We had to do a lot of work, took a lot of shit from customers and got paid beans. Actually, it was one of the best jobs I've had because everybody that I worked with was really fun.
One day, a friend from work and I decided to go to a movie, until we realized how absolutely poor we were. The only one we could afford had a $1 admission. We decided we weren't being paid enough, so we started to pay ourselves -- from the cash register. We got to the point where we couldn't work a day unless we got $40 each, on top of our daily wages. If a manager got on our case to work faster, we laughed and took $20 out of the cash register for harassment. We found out later that we weren't the only employees taking money. It seemed to be a common practice.
Eventually, we got so fed up that we decided we weren't going to charge anyone for anything all day. This became known as the "Free Day." The three of us gave away hundreds of dollars' worth of services and products. We didn't charge anyone for time on the computers laser printers or copiers. If anyone came to pick up a big job, we just gave it to them. A lot of customers were very shocked. Some people almost got to the point of demanding we take their money, which, when you think about it, is silly. We told customers it was part of a promotional campaign or that the cash register was broken and we couldn't take their money at the time.
The owners started to notice money was missing, and that at least one employee was stealing, but there was nothing they could do because the store was open twenty-four hours and they didn't keep good track of things. I think they still don't know just how much money we took.
Our bonus checks were paid according to the number of good customer evaluations we got. We would go through them (even though we weren't supposed touch them, much less look at them), and if any bad ones came in we'd throw them out. If we didn't meet our end-of-the-month quota for good ones, we just made some up with fake names and addresses, and wrote how great the employees were at that particular store. The results would be published in the company newsletter each month. We were rated the best employees and the best store. The management never thought employees could make money by faking these evaluations. We faked hundreds of them. To this day, when I get together with other people who worked there, we always have a good laugh.
DISCOUNT CHAIN STORE STOCK CLERK KARL
Working at Kmart was your typical teenage shit job. The job was boring. Everyone who worked there hated being there; it was drudgery. The aspect that was really depressing was seeing people who had families work there, making the same amount as a teenager. It was sad to see people support their kids on shit wages. I don't think any employee, except for upper management, made more than $15,000 a year.
The day after Christmas, 1979, the store laid off a lot of people, even people who had been working there longer than I had. To get even with the company, I started stealing.
The first things I took were two music cassettes that were in the stock room. I stuck them in my sock and walked out. When I got into the appliance department I gave my friends discounts on batteries and cassette tapes. Everything was minor until I was moved into the camera and jewelry department where I was under a lot of pressure. I couldn't take it anymore. I knew that other people were taking stuff but everyone was really quiet about it. I had a friend come in and I gave him a shopping bag filled with six Minolta and Pentax cameras -- about $400 each -- and a couple cases of film. I charged him $1.99, which was the price of some batteries. I made sure that I stapled a long receipt onto his bag. Then two security guards walked up and we engaged them in a twenty minute discussion about shoplifting. Later, my friend walked out the front door. After that, it was easy.
I was transferred to building materials, where I had access to a large garage door. My friend had a big car and we loaded it up with garage door openers and ceiling fans. At Kmart they only went by department sales -- they didn't have I.D. numbers like other big stores -- so they didn't know what item was being sold. We could sell a load of plywood and the company would think we had sold a load of garage door openers. My friend would go out and sell the stuff and we would split the profit. We did this three or four times a week. I think we stole close to $100,000 worth of merchandise. We wouldn't give a second thought to leaving the shelf empty, and when we ran out we would order more. I told some of the people who worked there what I was doing and most would say, "I couldn't do that." Then one day I saw my friend going outside with a huge box filled with about $20,000 worth of stuff, everything from gold chains to stereos.
In 1981, Kmart 3399 had the worst yearly inventory of any Kmart in the country. The store had $500,000 in invisible waste. That year we fudged the inventory: instead of marking one ceiling fan we would mark five. The same people who were stealing were doing the inventory, so we were able to cover our asses real good, but it made us wonder who was taking the rest of the stuff. In reality, the store probably had lost between $750,000 and $1,000,000 to invisible waste.
An ironic story is that one Christmas I took four cases of Atari games and gave them out as presents at the store's Christmas party. I later found out that security was taking stuff too. The person in charge of the warehouse was taking stuff by the forklift load and putting it in the back of his pickup. Nobody ever thought to check that guy.
I don't think I did that much damage to the company. In 1982 the company blamed the store's problems on management, most of whom were transferred to other stores. The store never fired or caught anyone stealing, but the store's reputation did bring management morale way down. Just think, they were in charge of the worst store in the entire country.
DEMOLITION WORKER ANTHONY
The wicked New England winter had set in. There was no more work haying fields or picking apples. There was food from our livestock and from what we could put away from our garden, but no money for anything else. My friends and I drove our beat-up station wagon to the nearby "city," population 5,000. We went to apply for food stamps and possibly general assistance. The case worker wouldn't hear of it: "There's plenty of work in this town. I know for a fact that they're hiring workers across town at the old grain mill."
We bundled ourselves against the bitter cold and went over to the hulking remains of an enormous grain mill that was now in a state of disrepair. We found the boss in his little warming shack relaxing next to his diesel space heater. "Sure I need more men, can't pay the going rate, but it is work. It's paying buck-fifty an hour." This guy was in cahoots with the state and he wasn't even paying minimum wage. We took the job.
Our job was to tear apart the huge grain mill and strip the parts into piles, so he could sell the bits and pieces. The planks from the hardwood floors, the electrical equipment, the I-beams and metal work, the plumbing fixtures -- all this would be resold, plus he would get paid for the demolition itself. He sent us out with crowbars, hammers and little else.
We were working on sub-flooring on the top of a three-story building. The roof had already been removed so we were totally exposed to the snow and howling wind. The floorboards were frozen and difficult to budge with crowbars. We attacked them with hammers and catspaws. We were in danger of freezing to death or slipping on the icy walkways and falling to our deaths. We worked all day while the boss huddled inside with his jet powered space heater. We went home bitter with cold. We returned day after day in search of that elusive paycheck. Some days it wouldn't climb above zero degrees, and we'd be out sawing flooring apart, disassembling metal conduit or cutting I-beams with cutter torches, watching them fall perilously below. At lunch time, we would munch on our cheese sandwiches in the comfort of the warming shack, while the boss would stand by watching the clock. We were perhaps twenty, all young men, most with wives and new babies. The wives would come around at lunchtime to bring sack lunches and show the baby to their freezing husbands. There was a sick, desperate feeling most of the time, as this miserable work was the only way to escape the bitter impoverishment winter brings to small towns.
At the end of the day, on payday, we waited for our checks. The boss looked sheepish. "Look boys, see that pile of hardwood there? I expect to have your checks as soon as I sell that pile. Then there'll be plenty of money. Tomorrow, no doubt." We stood around and stared in disbelief. The next day came and still no money. A week passed with all of us sawing boards, tearing down walls, chainsawing through sub-flooring, sparks flying as we hit nails below. The anger was building.
Finally, one morning, we threw our tools down. Gathering all around, stomping our heavy boots trying to warm our feet, we plotted our retaliation for working several weeks with only promises of a paycheck. We knew he had in fact sold much of the material, and had even bought a new pick-up truck a few days ago. We picked up our crowbars, stomped down the remains of the stairs and barged into his office, the twenty of us prominently displaying our crowbars. We demanded our money. He swore he didn't have any. We said we'd have to pay ourselves then.
We left the warming shack and fanned out over the plant, grabbing anything of value. We brought our vehicles up close to the gate and started filling them with anything we could possibly resell -- the tools, chain saws, materials, electrical equipment, anything and everything. The boss just stood by nervously, not even bothering to call the police as the five or so cops in town wouldn't mess with the twenty of us with crowbars. When we were satisfied with our booty, we waved our bars at him; called him the scumbag he was and drove away. Never heard from him again.
HOSPITAL PERSONNEL MALCOLM
One day the three hospital workers I lived with showed me a memo the hospital put out announcing a picnic for the staff. It said you had to bring your own food. The administration thought they were doing all the workers a great favor sending them this invitation to a bring-your-own-food picnic.
We took the memo and reworded it so it said the hospital would provide steaks and a bunch of other stuff. We sent it through inter office mail so it went to every station in the hospital. Supervisors took it as a real message and posted it around their departments. Within a few days, the administration sent out a message saying, "Disregard all previous messages about the picnic. There is still going to be a picnic. The kitchen workers will be cooking up hamburgers and hot dogs." It went from bring-your-own-food to them providing it.
The hospital circulated another memo about everyone having to help cut labor costs. We replied to it by sending out one suggesting that the best way to cut costs was to move the hospital to Korea. We listed all the options for moving and some people read it and halfway believed it, then realized it just wasn't possible. It was one of those jokes that get to the heart of the matter.
The hospital puts out two magazines, one called Pulse and one called Pulsebeats. The first is internal, for employees, and the other is for the community, although it probably never gets out of the hospital. Because the memos we put out were well-received, we took Pulsebeats and turned it into Deadbeats. It was a complete parody of the official magazine.
Deadbeats was circulated and quickly became popular at the hospital. "We don't care" buttons were made and proudly worn by workers. Other hospital workers contributed material and another issue came out. Unfortunately, there were only two issues. The administration got wind of Deadbeats. They seized the mail room and searched all the mail packets to stop its distribution. The second issue was the last issue but a lot of people at the hospital still flash their ‘We don't care" buttons.
The stuff we did was well received. We only got negative reactions from one or two people. One nurse who made a comment like, "They must have too much time on their hands." I think that nurse was administrative and her job wasn't on the line.
It was a way of gaining leverage in different employee situations that were going on. They were cost-cutting and when they started to see all the sarcasm, they tried to do something that wouldn't get as big of a rebellion going. Judging from the stuff that was coming out, they knew they had to do something.
LIQUOR COMPANY SHIPPING CLERK ROY
There was a time when I was a temp worker, an employee of Kelly Services. It was always amusing when I, obviously male, walked into a new assignment, when they'd called for a "Kelly Girl." I got to see a lot of people cutting slack for themselves in the world of work. As I moved around, one assignment in particular stands out as a hotbed of slacking off.
I did a stint as a shipping clerk at the Old Mr. Boston liquor warehouse. This was during the last six months the company was in Boston, before it moved to Louisville, having been bought out by another company. The previous shipping clerk quit when he found out the company was not going to transfer any of the workers to the new location. Everyone knew their job was ending, and for all the resume help and outplacement services, the bulk of them were going to end up unemployed. This completely destroyed morale in the entire plant. With even the plant manager about to go out on the streets, there was no one who cared to check up on the employees and keep them working hard.
So none of them did. Things were especially bad in shipping, since most of the warehouse employees were long-time alcoholics; I was one myself, encouraged by this job. One of my duties was to help my boss go around the warehouse once a week and pick up all the half empty bottles, and set the cases that had been broken aside so they could be refilled. The worst of the half-open bottles we would pour down the drains. The better stuff came into the office, where we drank it ourselves.
And we certainly had time to drink it. There were three people in the shipping office -- with work for only one and a half which declined rapidly as operations moved to Louisville. Whenever I was done typing up shipping papers for the day, I turned to reading. We also talked a lot about everything from auto repair to what was wrong with employers.
Meanwhile, in the warehouse, the half-drunk guys continued to knock over full cases of liquor with the forklifts, and more than once the stench of cinnamon schnapps filled the air. Every month we'd take inventory and track the "shrinkage," which should have been called "drinkage."
Things got worse and worse as the date for the final move came closer. Adding machines vanished from the offices all over the plant. Apparently a grand piano and a solid oak conference table did the same. Finally, the guys in the shipping department decided that we might as well arrange for our own severance bonuses as well. On the final day, we were supposed to load all of the remaining stock in a boxcar and send it down to Kentucky. We loaded about 200 cases of mixed liquor onto a panel truck instead, and drove it around town, stopping at the houses of all the workers. When it got back to the plant, the truck was empty.
I still have some of that booze...
I worked for a small company called Gray's Manufacturing Company in Inglewood, California. They made specialized airplane parts for companies like Boeing and Lockheed. I was the low man on the totem pole, working for two rich brothers who were trying to outdo each other all the time. One brother had done really smart things with his money and had made good investments. But the other brother, who owned the company, was always losing his ass on small business ventures. I- always put it off on his little brother who took his frustrations out on me. It was like passing the buck.
What it boiled down to was a really shitty job: deburring, which means cleaning the parts when they came off the machine. I had to run this big piece of sandpaper across each part five or six times, bore it with air and water, and check it with calipers. I had to wash my hands every time because if I Got just one little piece of grit on my calipers, it didn't measure correctly. It's a really screwy job. They were charging the company a lot of money for these parts -- about $25,000.
I was frustrated doing the work and having the boss come and check stuff that I knew was accurate. I-- would be frustrated because of the bad deals he was making, so he'd knock the parts around and make them so they weren't any good, and then blame me. If one part hits a certain place on another, it's not going to be any good. After he screwed up half of the parts I had done, I had to go through and figure out which ones were screwed up and fix them up just right. I got really tired of this and knew it was going to come out of my paycheck. So I thought, fuck it! I'm going to ruin every one of them.
I made it look as if the parts were okay. I took ten-thousandths of an inch off more than I should have, or I bored a hole wider than I was supposed to. Then I wrapped them up, packed them and got them ready for delivery. The boss didn't catch anything because I'd always make sure the top three in the batch were okay, and he'd only check those when they were packed. All the ones after the top three were screwed up. The company only got $4,000 worth of good parts out of a $25,000 job. It really ended up costing them a lot -- probably $21,000, not including shipping -- and what it cost to recall the parts.
The pay was low, they treated me badly, they were running a shitty company, and their ethics were rotten. I still think they owe me for all the shit they put me through. I did really good work. They kept promising me a raise, but it never came. They ended up going out of business.
MAIL HANDLER JUDI
The Washington Bulk Mail Center is one of twenty-one centers in the United States. I worked there from 1976 to 1980. They spent lots of money and put together factories that just plain didn't work. These computer nerds design factories and they've never seen one in their whole lives. They didn't want to admit that it didn't work. They set an efficiency rate for the factory but since the machinery didn't work, they couldn't achieve that rate. Instead of hiring more employees and admitting it was a failure, they forced us to work overtime. We worked at least sixty hours a week, and in December they would work us eighty-four. A major problem was that we worked all the time, and started to go crazy.
Overtime was the main issue, but accidents and industrial injuries were two other ones. General harassment was a problem too -- they give a ten point preference to veterans, so everyone thinks they're still in the army. The real army ass-kissers rise to supervisor. Since you don't have to make a profit in the post office, it lacks the semblance of reason you get in capitalism. In the post office it didn't matter how much money was wasted.
I unloaded and sometimes loaded trucks. It was supposedly all mechanized. We had these great big things called extended conveyor belts that went into the trucks. We froze our butts off in the winter and roasted in the summer.
Parcels and sacks were unloaded and sorted separately, but the machine was always jamming up. The best way to break up the jam was to throw some sacks on the parcel system because they were heavier and would push the jam through. This of course meant that they'd be landing on the parcels and squashing them to bits. That was a kind of sabotage that was actually endorsed by management because they wanted us to work faster.
There's no back-up system in the plant. If there's a tangle somewhere, the whole line shuts down. When the non-zip chute backed up, everything we wanted to know the zip code of would shoot back up, and everything going to that place stopped. For every piece, you had to have a non-zip option, so if the non-zip chute closed down, the whole line closed down. We'd key every thing in as non-zip, and the system would overload. All the red lights came on and everything went down. When New York was in a wildcat strike, we keyed everything to New York.
As we began to feel our collective power, people got more obvious and flippant. We started doing little things like sending things to the wrong place and deliberately shutting things down. But as we got to be more organized, one of the games we played when we were bored was to deliberately break the machinery and make a bet on how long it would take the mechanic to figure out what was wrong. We'd try to break it in a bizarre manner. One of our favorite things to do was to turn off emergency stops to see how long the mechanic would take to figure out which one it was. We would take turns banging on the sides of the trucks while we were unloading them. The supervisors would get very upset and run back and forth trying to figure out who was doing it.
Eventually we began to do really organized things. When they ordered us to work overtime on Thanksgiving, everybody left. We were real proud of that one. Another time, we did a sick-out, where a lot of people went home sick at the same time.
We weren't allowed to strike. We met between the two shifts -- there was an hour break in between -- and I stood up on a table and gave a speech in the cafeteria. We drew up a committee of twelve and a list of demands, and eighty of us did a walk-in (since we couldn't do a walk-out) to our supervisor's office and gave her our list. Her reaction was to put locks on the door between the plant and the administration office so you couldn't get in. You had to have a computer card and a combination and all of that. Short of going on strike, the culmination of our action was the trash-in. They were famous for losing our paychecks on the night shift. The forklift drivers would drive around and tell everyone that they lost our checks again. We'd cause machines to wreck (which was pretty easy), the forklift drivers would drop pallets everywhere, and everyone keyed everything non-zip. One night we brought the place to a standstill. We trashed everything that came in.
The unions were very corrupt and the overtime didn't decrease in most of the country. But we won. They stopped giving us overtime. As we did such a horrible job on the parcels, people started using UPS more and the post office less. The volume started to go down, so the trashings and overtime and accidents went down. The safety conditions improved. After a year, when we did the wildcat strike, the union crumbled and fell into our hands. We ended up taking over the union and I became the Chief Shop Steward (the highest position in that plant) and began to expedite grievances. They got rid of the worst of the supervisors and brought in new ones specifically to appease us. Everyone makes jokes about postal workers smashing up mail because they think they don't care. But postal workers don't like the fact that we can't do a good job no matter how hard we try.
MAILROOM CLERK REGGIE
I worked at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank on Capitol Hill. It's a group of attorneys, columnists, whatever, who crank out -- daily or weekly or whatever -- information. It's printed downstairs, in the Xerox room, and distributed to senators, congressmen, and other influential people. In a couple of cases I delivered packages addressed to Ed Meese. That gives you an idea of what kind of people work there. My basic duties were to collect mail in the mornings from the post office, sort it, and distribute it, and so on. I pretty much did everything myself and I had a lot of responsibility.
I got the job right after high school. I had never heard of the organization, and just found the job through the newspaper. When I was working there, I would occasionally glance at what they were putting out; the more I read, the more! Thought about it and realized they were doing fucked-up things, like defending business practices in South Africa and U.S. investments there.
They have a big fundraising deal, and when they sent out fundraising requests, people would mail in checks. Sometimes they'd be huge amounts, and sometimes they were piddling. Checks came in from individuals as well as companies. So I'd randomly take an envelope, open it, see how much it was for, and throw it in the shredder. I started doing it more and more. I could tell if it was a check by holding it to the light. If so, I'd toss it, dump it or shred it.
The Fort Bragg Redwood sawmill is owned by Georgia-Pacific, a large company with interests in building materials and chemicals. Workers used to call bomb threats into the company. They waited until 1:00 pm on Fridays, in spring, when it was balmy and glorious. They would call the dispatcher, the same person they called in sick to, and say "I put four charges of plastique in the powerhouse. It goes off at 4:00. Nobody works today!" and hang up. Then they'd get a cold-pack and a gram of hash and drive out to the river. The tactic quit working around July, when it wore out from overuse. The dispatcher was instructed not to tell anybody, and no one looked for the bombs anymore.
The bomb-threat callers only wanted the occasional afternoon off, and took advantage of the political struggle then taking place between ownership, woodsworkers and the first wave of reform minded hippies and political radicals, who made it a point not to get jobs in mills or timber.
Another favorite (but rarely successful) tactic is to drop metal and glass into the Hog, a machine which chops wood trimmings and waste into Hog fuel, or chips and dust to be burned for power generation. A metal detector and a full-time worker guard the Hog against such foreign objects, although the odd aluminum soda can and will get by, and everyone then enjoys a half-day or so of relaxation while millwrights attend to the damaged blades. The mill loses between $100 and $200 per minute while the Hog is broken. Anyone caught intentionally dropping foreign material onto the Hog-feed chain is subject to stern discipline including termination, so it is not done lightly. Equipment breakdowns are fairly common events, and I always enjoyed them to the fullest while bosses got all red-faced and stood around wishing they could fix it with a hammer.
I suppose sabotage also might include hiding between the loads of lumber with three or four buddies and copping a buzz. At least half the workers I know are regular marijuana users, and their motive is to reclaim their minds, or at least to render them useless to the company. It's also a way to relieve the crushing monotony. They've instituted pre-.employment urinalysis since my day, and they work harder at propagandizing the smoker against seeking peace through drugs, but let's be honest about this: getting a mill job is the quickest way to get on drugs. Speed is not quite as common as pot, but the effects are more profound and users are truly dedicated. And then there's alcohol.
Acts of sabotage are likely to be appreciated by some workers. Many seem to have no opinion. Others are so much in debt that they find ways to work even when their co-workers are sent home, and they are against sabotage.
I worked in a food production factory that made thousands of bottles of warm goo a day. I stood at the end of a conveyer belt where boxes with a dozen bottles of this warm crap came whizzing down to me, about one per second. I would stack them on pallets and the forklift driver would take them away. Occasionally, when we got a major shipment of boxes with plastic bottles for the front end of the assembly line, the foreman would take me and a few others off the line and send us upstairs to the old wooden storeroom. The boxes would come up on a conveyor belt to us, where we would stack them on the floor.
One day we were called to unload a major shipment. The boxes were coming at us at an alarming rate. Me and two co-workers were running like fools, arms stretched wide, grasping these boxes. We would have to run them over to where they were being stacked on the far side of the wall. It was sweltering hot up in the attic storeroom of this antiquated old factory. We were sweating and running with these boxes, squeezing tight so the middle ones wouldn't fall out. The conveyor belt was crammed with boxes. The foreman, a despicable Marine sergeant type, sat on a stack of boxes and picked his teeth, chiding us to go faster. If one of us fell behind the others, he'd call us "pussy" or some other insult sure to drive us into a working frenzy.
There was no let-up in boxes, and with sweat dripping into our eyes and cardboard dust irritating our skin, the three of us exploded into open revolt. Tim punched a box off the conveyor belt, and in a matter of seconds, we were punching them all off the belt. Boxes and plastic bottles were flying all over the floor. As the boxes kept coming from below, we kept punching them off. One after the other in a wild, deliriously happy frenzy. We ran to the stacks of boxes and started pulling them down with a dull crash onto the old wooden floor. The foreman was grabbing at our arms, trying to stop us, hollering as loud as he could over the din of the boxes and conveyor motor.
Finally, with big sheepish grins on our faces, we stopped. The boxes had stopped. The foreman told us to take the day off, to go home. The next day we came to work as if nothing had happened. I took my place on the line. The boxes of warm crap came whizzing down to me, about one per second...
PINEAPPLE PACKER LANCE
In Honolulu, most people start working at Dole Pineapple right out of high school. They usually end up staying there for the rest of their lives like my grandparents did. If you don't have a good education, it's hard to find any other job in Hawaii. I'd have to say that for most people, it was just a shitty job. The work was hard and the factory was noisy and hot. No one liked it. The managers were incredibly abusive; in order to avoid promoting people, they switched us around a lot so we never got skilled at any one job.
I worked at the janacka machine, which cuts the hides and skin off the pineapple. I also worked where they seal the tops of the cans, and then I worked inspection, where they weigh random samplings of cans to make sure they have the right amount of juice and everything.
The janacka machine was probably the best. We usually worked a straight ten-hour shift, so a lot of people would just burn out. The biggest problem was people falling asleep and getting their hands caught in the machine. To combat that, people would try to get more breaks--we were only allowed two breaks a shift. To do this, they would send a pineapple down the wrong direction, or send a glove down, and it would break the whole machine. If the janacka machine shuts down, you can't cut the pineapple, and if you can't cut the pineapple, the line can't go on. The whole production line shuts down. It takes at least three hours to fix, so you're getting paid for three hours at least for just sitting around.
There was only one manager for the people who sealed cans, and it's such a huge place that they couldn't check on us more than once an hour. We could easily switch the wrong button and the juice would go into the wrong container, or we could change the levels so that everything overflowed. They'd have to shut down the machine to figure out what went wrong.
There were about five of us working at the inspection place in different shifts. We would collect the pineapple for samples, go into the back room, hang out, listen to the radio for a couple of hours, and then throw all the samples away. It was a pretty common practice.
We never got caught and I don't know anyone who's ever been fired from Dole. First off, it's incredibly cheap labor and, overall, they're making a hell of a lot of money from our ten hour shifts. It was so easy to make a mistake that they'd never know when we did it on purpose. Everyone who worked there knew that people did it. They welcomed the break -- they'd be stupid not to, and be ostracized by everyone else.
RECORDS CLERK ZEKE
A long time ago, in the pre-computerized days, I got a job with the records department of the Arizona Division of Motor Vehicles. I thought I'd be doing mindless filing from midnight to eight, but when I got there, I found that I was sitting there looking up vehicle registration numbers for cops who were investigating people. I said, "Oh Jesus is this really what I want to do?" I couldn't afford to quit -- I only had a hundred dollars -- so I figured I could stand it for a while.
Four or five days after I started, I get this one cop who calls up and gives me half a dozen phone numbers and says, "Yeah, we got a pot party under observation and we're going to get these guys. Give me the information on them." I thought, "Oh, man!" and I just made UD vehicle registration info: phony names and phony addresses for all of them. I never heard much more about it.
The following week, a narcotics agent calls and identifies himself as such. I gave him phony information too. This friend of mine was working there and started doing the same thing. Narcs would call in occasionally, and about seventy-five percent of the time, we'd give them bad information. This went on for about two and a half months, until we got word that detectives were coming around, talking to our supervisor. We called her the "peg woman" and she was absolutely awful. We got called in and she said,
"Somebody is giving the police false information and we can't prove it's you, but if it happens again, we're going to fire everyone in the department." My friend and I had both just gotten out of prison for dope dealing and both of us were selling major quantities of pot at the time. I sort of felt like a Jew helping run a concentration camp. So at that point we both decided to quit rather than start giving the cops correct information. Fortunately, they were never able to pin it on us.
STOCK BROKER P.J.K.
I worked for Smith Barney for two years. I got my job totally by accident. Headhunters love me. They see dollar signs when they read my resume. I don't make much effort to look the corporate part, since I have college up my ass and will do anything from the lowliest of word processing (I type 100 wpm and am literate in nine computer languages) to the highest level of analytical-type work Wall Street has to offer. I got into Wall Street because I'm a hustler. Six years ago I saw all the money those people were stealing, and I thought, "I want a slice."
When I was hired at Smith Barney, my new boss almost wouldn't let me leave -- they wanted me to show up and start working the next day. Of course, this is often a sign that the job has to be filled immediately because the company's a mess, but he wanted me to start the next day because he was a big-shot junk bond analyst and had no helper. He told me I was overqualified but that he'd consider himself fortunate to have me for a little while, doing analytical work at the low salary of $21 ,000 per year, less than half of what I was making at my previous job. Turns out that this guy is a really nice person and I respect him and like him a lot, but the rest of the shit I saw at that company was mind-bending.
Everything there is done shoddily. I've seen traders lose mil lions for the firm in minutes because they were hung over and mad at their bosses. You just pick up a phone on the trading floor and start hitting the keys. The touchtone phones are actually computer links to do block trades. One day I picked up some phones, pressed a bunch of buttons and then ran to a Telerate screen to watch the market plunge. I'll never know, but I may have caused a million shares of IBM to be sold that second. This became a big game and I enjoyed scrambling things in the trading department and then running to a screen to see the market fluctuate. It was funny because I'd ask traders if I could use their phones for a second, then get the computer on the line to just pound my fist on the keys.
Once this big, hot-shot analyst -- these guys make millions, mind you -- wrote this really un-cool memo about how his secretaries had all been cocaine addicts and that's why he'd had to fire‘em, and personnel should get off his back for using up so many secretaries. I had six people photocopy this memo and send it around anonymously to hundreds of people inside and outside the firm, all at the company's expense. I sent "news releases" to Ray Brady, the CBS news correspondent, via rush messenger. This was before the big drug-testing shit and it must've really caused a stir. I sent copies to all his previous secretaries and all these other people, and a year later he left. This guy was a sadistic, arrogant fuck, and I sent this memo around to show everybody how he'd screwed himself through his indiscretion. After the way I'd seen him talk to female subordinates, I decided it had to be done. It was scary, but fun.
UNIVERSITY MAINTENANCE WORKER ADAM
We get in and out of the buildings very easily without being questioned. We always look like we belong wherever we may be because we wear work gloves and have a truck with the university insignia on it. The university spans across an entire city in New Jersey, so we can go wherever we want without our supervisors thinking anything of it. This gives us a lot of freedom to do whatever we want. We regularly drive the truck to one co-worker's house and go to sleep for a couple of hours, and then we go back and punch out.
The university was renovating an academic building and they put a lot of the furniture, carpet, space heaters and track lights in a warehouse that our department shares with whatever department was being renovated. It was all just piled up and none of it was labeled. I figured no one would miss anything. One day I told my boss we had to work overtime because there was a lot to do. Then three of us loaded up the university truck with two dressers, two desks, three chairs, three beds and some lights. Later I Went back and got two carpets. A guy I worked with got two mattresses and track lights.
I took most of the stuff because I was moving into a new apartment. I didn't own any furniture and I needed it. It was free and very easy to take; no one questioned us and I don't think anyone even noticed. They were so incredibly disorganized. If they did miss the stuff, they probably just chalked it up to the move.
If I had to rationalize doing it, I'd say that there wasn't a revenge motive, just fair give and take.