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V. Grey

Shop Talks on Socialism

(13 January 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 2, 13 January 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“Say, who’s running this shop anyway, you or me?” the foreman said.

And Slim said, “I don’t see where you’re doing so much to run it.” The foreman got mad at that. But he didn’t say anything. Mainly because there wasn’t anything to say.

But later on in the washroom Scissorbill Sam sneered out to nobody in particular, “Some people think they’re pretty good around here. They know how to run the shop with their eyes shut.”

“If some people don’t slow down a little on running that punch press they’ll lose a couple of fingers – with their eyes wide open, too,” said Shorty.

“They might get their eyes closed at that,” said Slim.

There was some more sarcasm back and forth, until Scissorbill Sam came back to the point. “If you guys think you can get along without Hallory (the foreman), you’re wrong. You’ve always got to have a boss on a job. ... Of course if you’re one of these here Socialists” ... he started to sneer again.

“I don’t know about the Socialist part of it,” Slim said.

“But remember the landing-barge job?” Everybody remembered because we made good money on that job. “And the whistle system? Two whistles for the crane, three for the inspector and four for the foreman. Any of you guys ever hear the whistle blow four times?” Nobody peeped. “I don’t think the foreman ever came around except when the navy inspector called him.”

“Sure, but you guys were all on piece-work for that job. Hallory knew you’d work hard anyhow.”

“Why Scissorbill, you don’t mean to say Hallory is just a nasty old pusher, do you ? You don’t mean to say he only comes around to make us work harder?”

Scissorbill Sam (the bosses’ man) looked embarrassed, though he didn’t know why he should be. “Well, what do you want a foreman to do? That’s what he gets paid for, ain’t it?”

What Is a Foreman For, Any Way?

Slim went on without paying Scissorbill any attention. “A foreman is supposed to know something, I was always told. Remember the time some welder came over from the shipyard to work on the landing barges? Hallory got hold of a hood and stood over the guy to watch him weld. So the guy turned around and asked Hallory to show him how he wanted the welding done. Well you know how much Hallory knows about welding. The only man that knows less around here is Hawkshaw himself. And I’ll bet even he read a book about it. After that Hallory didn’t show up at that end of the shop for a week.”

“You can’t expect a foreman to know every job in the shop” said Scissorbill.

“What can you expect him to know, then?”

“A foreman is an organizer. He lays out the work and makes sure that you don’t do more left parts than right parts. And stuff like that.”

“The stock boy or the dispatcher always let me know if that’s happening. No,” said Slim, “I never saw a foreman yet that was the best man, best skilled, best organizer or anything else.”

“What about Billy Jones?”, asked Shorty.

“I’m not talking about maintenance work. That’s the exception —

“Who does the company choose for a production foreman. The man they figure knows the most, or the man they figure will push the most?”

“All right, all right!” said Scissorbill, getting hot. “What’s all this got to do about it? What if the foreman is a pusher? He has to get the work out, don’t he? He’s supposed to be a boss, ain’t he? I take notice, when you guys are on day-work you keep out of his way, too. That proves there’d never be any work done in this place if it weren’t for him.”

“We made landing barges without his help – and without his pushing. And we made them better, and faster, for the size crew we had than anywhere else in the country.”

“That was piece-work. Piecework, I tell you!” Scissorbill shouted at the top of his lungs. “You had an incentive.”

Putting Pork Chops on the Table

“Piece-work without a foreman – or day-work with a foreman – the incentive is the same. To put the pork chops on the table. Only it works backward in the second case. If you don’t do what the foreman tells you, you’re liable to lose your job, and the pork chops come off the table.”

In that case,” said Shorty, “you have to have the foreman to organize the job, or else be on piece-work to organize it yourself.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” said Slim. “We all know piecework is no good. But the main thing is this: that we had about 25 fellows on each shift for the landing barges ... burners, fitters, chippers and welders. We laid out our own work. We systematized it. And we produced way more than Hallory or anybody else ever thought we could. That’s the main thing. Us fellows did it – And without benefit of foreman.”

“What do you want to do, Slim. Abolish foremen altogether?” somebody spoke up.

“Not exactly. Like Scissorbill says, you need an organizer. We used to spend 15 minutes or more in a huddle every morning to decide how we were going to work. That’s 25 times 15 minutes If some one person had done that and laid out the work it would have saved time and maybe been done better.”

“But Hallory —”

“I know that’s what Hallory tried to do once. But in the first place he didn’t know how to do it. And in the second place he’s a company man.”

“If you’re not going to listen to the company’s man,” yelled Scissorbill, "who in hell are you gonna listen to?”

“We’re going to listen to ourselves. When we get the chance we’ll organize the work ourselves. And someday we’ll change things around and get time to train somebody how to be a WORKERS’ foreman instead of a company foreman.”

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