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V. Grey

Shop Talks on Socialism

(10 March 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 10, 10 March 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“I just can’t see your point of view, Slim;” young Mike was talking. We had all been arguing about whether a man got paid; for what he produced, and joking about how the electrician would starve if he only got what he earned, and all that.

“If you get paid for the hour, or by the piece, you still get paid for what you do. If you work harder you get more. Am I right?” Mike takes the floor in the locker room more than you’d expect from a new fellow in the shop. But he was brought up nearby – and knows half the fellows pretty well anyhow.

“No,” Slim insisted, “you produce way more than you get paid for. And if you didn’t –.” But then the whistle blew and, everybody went back to work.

Young Mike was working on old 29 press with Ed and Breezy. It was a piece-work job – punching big holes in a sheet about 10 feet by 30 inches. The sheet was fed into the press from one side and taken out from the other. The press had to make several hits while the sheet was sliding along. The job was priced so you could make between nine and ten dollars if you worked like hell and kept the press going automatically all the time.

Old 29 made 450 hits an hour – that is, not allowing for breakdowns, etc. It was the best job Mike had been put on yet. There were plenty of other fellows ahead of him in seniority. But this was sort of a rotating job and nobody wanted to bump him for the lousy buck.

Well, naturally the kid was working like a dog, pulling those sheets out of the press and helping to stack them up. All of a sudden there was another breakdown, and 29 was really finished for the day.

Press 31 had already been rigged with the same set-up, though. And after a few minutes day-work to move the stock, etc., Ed, Breezy and young Mike started again over there. Well 31 got 600 hits an hour – thirty three percent more than the old press. And the fellows had to really shake their shoes to make every hit.

Especially Mike. He was soaking with sweat. But he didn’t feel so bad, on account of figuring on an extra thirty-three percent an hour that he’d be getting. It came to at least 40 cents more per hour, according to his mental arithmetic.

At the end of the shift when they were all changing clothes in the locker room, Breezy said, “Hey Mike! How much did we make?”

“Eleven dollars and seventeen cents,” Mike replied.

Mike Learns About Piece-Work Rates

Everybody in the locker room turned around, or stopped washing.

“Whaddaya mean, eleven dollars and seventeen cents? Nobody makes that much money on that job.”

Mike was nobody’s slouch at arithmetic, and he said, “You want me to draw you a diagram?” And he figured it up with a piece of chalk on the side of a locker. And it came to exactly eleven dollars and seventeen cents.

Then an arm reached over his shoulder and erased a couple of figures and made it come out to nine dollars and a quarter.

It was Slim. “You see they have a cheaper rate on 31 than on 29 because it goes faster.”

“But I went faster too,” protested Mike, a little dazed.

“Sure you did, and you produced faster. But like I started to say at lunch time, you don’t get paid for what, you produce.”

“But this is different. This is a dirty swindle!” Mike was coming out of his daze. “Why don’t we put in a grievance?”

“We did,” Slim replied.

“And do you mean to say you lost it? What the hell could the company say, anyway?”

Breezy laughed. “I remember one thing they said! – If you got the same price rate on 31 it wouldn’t be FAIR to the guys on 29.”

“They just pay you for a day’s work,” Slim replied. “They figure eleven dollar’s is a little too much for a working man. You made thirty-three percent better production, but it still don’t take you any more money to eat. Why should they pay you any more?

“I remember,” Slim went on, “when all the presses were slower, and you did a lot of stuff by hand that you do now by machinery. We didn’t get half the production out that we get now. But we’re not living in better houses, or driving better cars, or eating better than we did then.”

“Well, it’s a screwy system,” young Mike said. “I’m certainly surprised you guys stand for it!”

“What kind of a system would be better, Mike?” Slim asked innocently.

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