Friday, June 7, 2013

The Inferno

Some comments deserve their own posts. Anonymous reflects on education and the assembly line:
Working my way through college (MSU), I would return to my Flint hometown after Spring Quarter. I'd immediately place job applications with all the GM productions in the hope of getting something paying union scale to fund the next year's tuition.

In the Summer of 62,I got a call from Fisher Body and was escorted to the fabled assembly line. The noise was incredible, sparks flew everywhere from welders attaching various metal parts into an auto frame. My reaction was "Dante's Inferno," and how could people possibly work here every day. I soon found out.

In a life chapter where I was devoted to education, working an automobile assembly line was one of the most profound educational experiences of my life. Co-workers were surprising cordial to the "college kid." They were very safety-conscious and had to be. It was quite dangerous. The monotony was indescribable. Coping techniques were seen with empty whiskey bottles in wheel wells and trunks of the auto bodies passing by.

After 3 months of that lifestyle, there was never any question in my mind that I'd finish my education and avoid ever having to return to Dante's Inferno.


  1. I worked several summers at GM plants. Most of the years I did per diem salary work, but I did work hourly production also. I was on a production line that was not critical to the assembly line, as sufficient parts were able to be produced somewhat faster than the line used it on a normal work schedule.

    Some jobs were easy enough that production levels could be met without working a whole shift, and workers were allowed to loaf the rest of the shift.

    On other jobs it was nearly impossible to keep up with production levels. You worked until the end of the shift, and were derided by supervisors when only 60% production levels could be achieved, even though no one could keep up. At the same time, union representatives would show up and tell me to SLOW DOWN, because the next people in the production process COULDN'T KEEP UP with me.

    There was also some favoritism in job assignments. I would only be criticized here if I mentioned what I saw happen.

    I was always happy to get back to school in the fall. I went to college for an incredible number of years, eventually obtaining an advanced degree. Although standardized test scores usually put me in the top 1% in intelligence and achievement, and my position in life is good, it is well below the 1% derided by many posters here.

    I can truly say from my experience that neither management nor unions can solve the problems we now have in our country. Flint is merely the canary in the mine that expired first. The rest of the country needs to stop blaming Flint workers and management for what has happened, because it is likely to affect them next, if we don't change several policies and approaches to national problems.

  2. As a college student headed for summer vacation, I applied at AC on Dort Highway for anything that could get me through the next year in college - I was told nice try, but you're overqualified. Have a nice life.

  3. I went to MSU and every summer I would work at the DuPont plant that was across the street from The Buick (which is what everyone in Flint called it). The plants did give you a reason to go back to MSU in the fall.

    You really should visit one of the new plants. The difference is incredible. They're all air conditioned and hospital room clean. Amazing places. The repetitive tasks are still there though.

  4. The real inferno was the Buick foundry, plant 70. I worked there from 67 until it closed in 80. The new machining plants have to be air conditioned. It's the only way the machinery can hold the tight tolerances required today.

    1. Maybe not quite as bad as a foundry, but the second floor of Flint Truck Assembly,on a hot summer day was its own kind of hell. You knew you were in trouble when the place was already steaming at 6:00 am,,before the sun even rose. Nothing between you and the heat of the day but a flat black tar covered metal roof. Fans were plentiful, but only served to circulate the oppressive heat. Your steel work bench was too hot to lean on, and your clothes were drenched in sweat within minutes of the shift start. If you were unlucky, you got to work on the truck bodies immediately after they emerged from the paint ovens.The milk would sour in the vending machines. The younger folks did all right, but lots of the older people would "fall out". The smell of paint sludge and spot welding fumes (which we found out later were purposely recirculated through our area to keep them from escaping the building) just added to the malaise. Your place was probably worse,but you got to retire 5 years earlier then we did.

    2. My grandfather started out in the foundry. He had an 8th grade education- the most that anybody had in those days. He taught himself math and got a job in the accounting department. One could do that back then. When he retired, he was comptroller. Because of him, I was able to land a summer job in Buick Stationery, even though he had retired. His former secretary still worked for Bolton and had some pull. One day I was hitch hiking to work and a Plant Supervisor gave me a lift. We became friends and I was able to get a production job, when my summer job ended. It was one of the best temp jobs I ever had. The next summer I had a cheap charter flight to Europe, through the University of Michigan. I had a 2 month rail pass but no spending money. I took a job at Chevrolet, doing something with pistons. It was the worse job I ever had. I worked 2 weeks and gave two weeks notice. I quit 4 weeks to the day with $1,000 bucks in my pocket and promptly flew off to London.

      Growing up in Flint was OK : ))


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at