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V. Grey

Shop Talks on Socialism

(5 May 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 18, 5 May 1945, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Sometimes you hear somebody say, “These accidents are the fellows’ own fault.” And it’s not only Scissorbill Sam (the bosses’ man) who says it, either. Shorty said it once, and Breezy makes cracks like that too.

At the last safety meeting the foreman said, “There’s no such thing as an accident.” Everything is carelessness, he argued. And he mentioned how a girl and a fellow had both hurt their hands in just the same way on the same machine. They both wiped the shavings off a drill-press table with one hand while they were bringing the drill down with the other.

There’s no excuse for that, the foreman said. They had a stick to clean off the shavings with. They didn’t need to use their hands and get hurt. Of course the, company never got around to installing an air line to blow the table clean. But it’s no trouble to pick up a stick, as the foreman says. You only have to do it once every three and a half seconds.

Well, maybe there isn’t any excuse. Maybe these people did it on purpose. Maybe they wanted to see what it felt like to tear a hole in their hand. Maybe they were so dumb they thought it would be a big enough accident so they could get compensation and retire. – And maybe not.

It’s a funny thing. But fellows and girls have been running that drill-press ever since it was put in the shop two and a half years ago, and nothing happened to them. But all of a sudden there are two accidents in a row. How come?

Does the Law of Averages Explain It?

Well, maybe it was the law of averages. Mathematicians figure it out by the law of chances, or something. They figure that a drill-press has one accident a year in its system. So if two years go by without an accident, there are two accidents coming up, you know. The same way they figure if you flip a coin a thousand times it will come down heads 500 times. But maybe not exactly 500 times in a row – as every bettor knows.

You never can tell. The law of averages might explain it all. But it’s too bad the law got enforced just when they started to make money on the job.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention that angle, didn’t I? The first two years and five months the drill-press was only used for shop repair work and other day-work jobs. But for the last couple of weeks the operators have been on steady PIECE-WORK on the drill.

NOW they can make nine-fifty a day! Maybe ten bucks if. they get good stock and quick crane service. Of course they work four or five times FASTER than day-work to get the dough. But hell, that’s piece-work, isn’t it? .

Take a girl who got 78 cents an hour yesterday on a clean-up job. She may have run the drill a couple of times before for 81 cents an hour. Now there’s a piece-work job. The boss gives her a break, and puts her on the drill. She has the chance of making a dollar and a quarter an hour. All she has to do is work four or five times harder and faster.

And maybe that’s why she decided to drill a hole in her hand, and push a broom for the rest of the month.

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Last updated: 5 November 2018