Image

“If we don’t learn from history, then we are condemned to repeat it.”  Some guy said that a long time ago and I have no idea what he meant by it, but since this chapter has to do with history, I needed a quote to kick-start the thing.  The word ‘history’ means, and I quote here from Webster’s Pocket Dictionary, “Things that happened before your mother gave birth to you, and things said to have happened.”  So we put the old saying together with the dictionary definition and we get, “If we don’t learn from things that happened before your mother gave birth to you, then we are condemned to repeat things said to have happened, and maybe end up having to live your miserable life all over again.”  Keep this in mind each moment of your work day.  The look on your face will hold the other workers a good few feet away from you, which will allow you to continue reading this book unobserved.

So let’s go back a few moments in time to trace the history of this profession we love, idolize and abhor so much.

In the beginning, there was the word.  It came from on high and told the workers directly what to and what not to do.  And the workers (two of them, one man one woman, making it ideal for that sex in the workplace to occur.  What was He thinking when he put those genders together like that?), anyway, the workers followed orders for a while pretty good, tending to the various lions laying around with the lambs, and gardening the place like it was Eden or something.  But, without direct supervision, one of the workmen wanders away from her help-mate work station and goes off into the forbidden fruit section.  There was an apple.  A snake.  Yada yada. Well, you know the rest.  The Big Boss gets pissed off (pilfering company stock is still a corporate crime punishable by death, or worse, termination of your personal health insurance.) and decides to fire His only workers.  But He knows they don’t listen to Him, anyway, (isn’t that exactly what the Big Transgression was about?), so who’s to say they’ll obey His wishes now?  After much consideration, God creates that one thing which will enable mankind (most of whom are yet to be born at this point in history) to develop into civilizations with superior technology (we’re not talking about the Third World now here) and and businesses that support and profit from that technology: God makes a supervisor, the first one, a perfect go-between for management and labor.  It is an angel, and this angelic supervisor’s first task is to expel the workers from the plant. In the words of the Great Almighty, “Fire the disobedient bastards.”  The supervisor does the job so well that not one son of Adam has ever been hired in Eden again.

This is the essence of the position of supervision.  Management has tried over and again to deal with labor directly.  And over and again labor misinterprets, sabotages, or just plain is incapable alone of accomplishing the task.  Failures ensue resulting in down time, production costs going up, safety and health rules being violated, overtime being paid, numerous trips to the bathroom, and, finally, expulsion from Eden.  So, the position of supervisor has been ineradicable from Genesis on.  The supervisor takes the absurd requests of the boss and translates them into orders mundane enough for the average labor troglodyte to perform.  Then they supervise the task (that was the Big Guy’s mistake of omission in the whole thing, anyway) so that the task moves forward with a minimum of surprises, toilet breaks and snakes.  Lord knows how Cain and Able could have used a little supervisory help to work out their differences.

Cain was a (and I quote from the authorized, abridged Reader’s Digest Home Bible and Household Repair Manual, which came from the Lazy-Ass Couch Potato Home Shopper’s Cable Show with a free bamboo steamer, all for only $19.95, what’s up with that nickel, anyway? like that weird missing dollar in all car ads, “only $19,999.00 plus tax, tag, delivery, dealer prep and sundry invisible dealer profits?”), wow, I was talking about something else back there, oh yeah, Cain was a “tiller of the ground,” about as low a job as it gets, a real menial career, like the housekeeping position, that janitor who empties your trash, the one management calls “environmental technician.”  Abel was a shepherd and cattleman, probably the most elite position in the pre-electrical world.

The two brothers went on about their work (without a supervisor to perhaps rotate their duties) and brought their production to the Big Guy.  And for Abel’s sheep, the Big Guy “had respect.”  But for some reason never clear to me, for Cain’s produce He “had not respect.”  Now the average person might think to wonder about the difference in “respect” shown to the two workers.  Questions about quotas, schedules, product quality and marketability might come up.  Worker reviews might be called for.  The matter might be put to arbitration.  An Independent Council could be convened.  But, no.  The whimsical nature of the Big Guy’s decisions (read management edicts) are above reproach and beyond question.  These things are impenetrably enigmatic.  Only a supervisor could interpret them, much like the ancient wise men, clerics and priests, though they were fallible and vulnerable in the most primitive ways, just as when the old priest declared that an eclipse meant the end of the world was taking place, then a half hour later when the sun came back out, the priest was promptly stoned to death.  But Cain and Abel had no supervisory help, and thus Cain was pissed off and went postal and “rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.”  Thus the first industrial fatality occurred, and that sign went up somewhere east of Eden: (1) days since last accident.

One morning I arrived at the warehouse platform hungover and depressed with the world.  I was young and in love, with a busted car and my rent over-due.  I was fucked up.  So here I go out onto the platform and there’s a security guard with a water hose washing away a lot of red stuff.  I figured, since this was a hospital supply company and we received and shipped tons of refrigerated blood vials, that a pallet had broken somehow.  I knew heads would roll and so I was glad that this mishap hadn’t happened on my shift.  Then, after talking with the guard with the hose, I wasn’t glad any more.  Turns out a young driver had pulled up with his trailer on the first run of his first day on the job with one of our satellite warehouses.  He had backed the trailer into the bay and, in his haste to do his job quickly on his first day, left the motor running, the hand brake unengaged,  the gear shift in neutral, and, worst of all, did not chock the truck tires to prevent them from rolling.  If you’re feeling a sense of dread for where this is going, you are feeling only a fraction of the horror I felt and still feel to this day.  The poor kid opened the trailer doors, got into the gas-driven fork lift, and began unloading the trailer of its seven-foot high pallets of blood.  The first couple of pallets came off fine, but when the kid drove into the trailer to pick up the stacks further inside, death was waiting for him.  As he backed the fork lift out of the trailer, the powered wheels of the lift rolled onto the platform, then, because of the huge weight involved, began pushing the trailer away from the dock.  Within seconds, the trailer was so far separated from the dock edge that the fork lift toppled over in between them, killing the driver at eighteen years of age.  There I stood, hungover and depressed, talking to a security guard who was washing away the last bits of blood and gore, the last ounces of this boy’s blood, into the storm sewer.  I looked into the warehouse and work was going on as usual.  I looked back at the storm sewer drain and pink water was sluicing down into the dark abyss.  I was vomitously sick.  Then the boy’s mother, who worked upstairs and had gotten him the job in the first place, came downstairs wailing, grief-stricken beyond description.  Her co-workers gently pulled her away from the scene.  The boy’s body had already been evacuated.  They took her to where he was.  The company kept working.  I was appalled.  I felt like a bee in a hive where when one worker bee dies the rest just keep on going without a blink (bees don’t blink).  I blinked.  I wept.  I felt the company should close for the day in grief for the loss of a human.  The loss of a boy who gave up his life for this cash cow of a company.  I was livid and spoke out and must have been ranting.  They sent me home.

All for the lack of chocking of a fucking tire.  This is the great peril in industrial safety.  We have rules.  But they must be enforced and monitored. Every minute of every working day.  And the equipment must be on hand and in working condition.  Or there will be maimings, amputations, mutilations, and, damn-why-couldn’t-someone-have-foreseen-this-and-done-something-about-it? deaths.

But the truth is that no matter what your safety program, be it lax or aggressive and detailed, you’re doing it wrong.  That stupid fuck on the grinder over there isn’t wearing protective goggles even though they’re hanging from a hook on the sign right next to the machine (sign reads: Use Protective Eyewear When Operating Machinery).  And this dim bulb has her bare hands up to her elbows in some solvent that will give her liver cancer in a decade or so because the protective gloves in the box beside her are too uncomfortable and make her hands sweat.  Even the useless suit in his costly office has too many electric wires running into his secretary’s outlet (stop sniggering, I didn’t mean that outlet).  So, take heart.  The business world is a bee hive where workers will be injured and die.  You can’t stop caring about that just because it’s inevitable.  You have to face the danger every day and try to do something about it.  (You: “Hey, Joe, put on those goggles, you dim wit.”  Joe: “Hey, fuck off.”).

Back to history.  A while after the Cain and Abel incident, there came the Tower of Babel. This was a really tall, cylindrical-shaped structure that many thought to be a temple to heaven.  This is not so clear in the Bible.  But, after exhaustive research, a few minutes of research usually exhausts me, I discovered that the Tower of Babel was actually nothing more than the first office coffee machine.  How did I make this discovery?  Well, the shape of the thing clued me in.  Also that everyone seemed to hang there.  Also everyone’s main goal there was communication, and their main activity, other than talking, was servicing the coffee machine, though they called it “building the tower” to avoid detection by their supervisors.  (Supervisor: “What the hell are all you people doing there?”  Workers : “Building the tower! Slurp.”)

So then here comes the Big Guy again, the Top CEO ever.  He looks around and says, “Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them.”  Now, to you or me in our modern world, the idea that all the people are one and speaking the same language and dreaming of achievements of monumental proportions is a pipe-dream on the scale of Woodstock (insert your favorite drug joke here).  But God was really pissed at those Babelites for daring to build a tower to heaven.  If He had only known it was just a giant coffee machine, I think things would have ended differently.  But who’s going to step up into the face of an angry God and tell Him that He doesn’t fully grasp the situation? (Worker: “Excuse me, God, sir.  But I don’t think, even though You’re omniscient and made all and know all, still, You don’t quite understand what gives here.”  God: “Thank you for pointing that out to me, my son.  You may now go to hell.”  BOOM.  “See ya!”). We can feel even from this distance the utility of a supervisory go-between.

So the Big Guy decides that this Babel thing is a bad task and He zaps everyone with a new language different from everyone else’s.  The Babelites are heartbroken and confused.  They, for the most part, cannot even read the instructions on the side of the coffee machine any more.  So they break off into the most splinter groups in the history of civilization, and go off into their individual wildernesses to build smaller coffee machines for their now smaller coffee klatches.  Was this altogether a good thing?  I’m not sure, but I know I’m not going to tell the Big Guy that He did something wrong.

The encyclopedia says that, and I quote here, “The first tools were sticks and stones picked up off the ground.”  At my place of work, we often find tools this very same way.  After all, nobody ever puts anything back where it belongs.  The worker’s point of view is that the job is finished when the last product is processed.  The tools are then dropped (sometimes on the work bench but most often on the floor, or, as the cave men called it, the ground) and the job is walked away from.  In theory, there is some magical group of beings, like those folk-tale elves in the shoe shop, who comes behind the workers and cleans up their mess and puts away their tools. I’m here to tell you there ain’t no such fucking elves.  I’m here to tell you I spend a million years a day, a day I tell ya, trying to get those workers to put away their stuff.  And just when I gets them, grumbling, back to the littered work station to clean up, along comes management and asks why the workers aren’t on the next project.  You see, clean up is never calculated into the time of production, it is never accounted for in labor or production costs, and therefore it doesn’t exist.  Management doesn’t even recognize the activity when they see it.  They just see tools on the ground ready for use like they should be.  The good supervisor must find a way to get the tools put in their for really proper places.  Why?  Because, though management professes to know and understand the concept, and labor insists that the concept is correct, nobody actually gives a crap about the fact that the biggest expense in a production project is set up time.  Once the set up is done, and particularly if the set up is done right so that the proper tools are at hand at the proper time in the production process and the worker doesn’t have to walk off line to search the floor for the tool, thus creating the appearance of a bathroom break which can’t help but start the great bathroom exodus that will stall out production completely, once, as I said, the set up is done, the actual production rolls along smoothly and the potential for profit rises sharply.  So, even though the perceived storage area for industrial tools hasn’t changed much throughout history, that is, the ground, the great supervisor’s understanding of the efficient usage of those tools and the importance of appropriate storage locations has grown greatly.  And, of course, with that understanding comes a whole new monkey on the supervisor’s back, getting the tools put away without management seeing someone being paid to do it.

Management: Harumph! Uh, what are those workers doing there?

Me: They’re cleaning up.

Management: They’re what?

Me: Cleaning up after the job.  To keep the work place safe and all the tools accounted for.

Management: What did you call it?

Me: Cleaning the fucking place up.

Management: And I pay them for that?

Me: If you’re smart, you do.

Management: What about the elves?  Where are they?

Anyhow, back to history.  Tools were first invented, er, picked up off the ground, sometime between 15,000,000 and 500,000 years B.C.  Not much was done with them at first.  After all, there was no language to communicate names of tools, so it was nearly impossible to get someone to hand you the right tool.

Mugwah: Hejji, pass me the tool.

Hejji: Which one?

Mugwah: The one I need, of course, you idiot.

Hejji: Fuck you, low brow.  How the hell am I supposed to know which tool you want if you don’t name it?

Mugwah (Smashing Hejji over the head with a rock picked up off the ground): This one, asswipe.

Anyone who has ever been under a car trying to tighten a belt or install a water pump with the help of some tool novice standing around the car knows what I’m talking about.

“Hand me the screwdriver.”

“Which one?”

“The Phillips.”  (Hands you the straight blade) “Never mind, hand me a rock.”

“Which one?”

So, tools, you gotta hate ‘em.  Back in Paleolithic times, not much was accomplished with those sharpened rocks, except for producing this fat cow of a woman-looking statue found in Austria called, and I quote here, the Venus of Villendorf.  This big mama dates back to around 30,000 years B.C. It ain’t much to look at, and possibly explains why Austria hasn’t done much in the way of industrial output since.

The next big thing in the history of supervision, which is the history of labor, which is the history of management (get the interlockingness of it all? See the dependency?, the gorgeousity of the work force as a symbiotic entity?  See how I’ve lost my train of thought among those words?

Gorgeousity?  Who the hell made that word up?  Woody Allen?  Anyway, the next big thing was slavery.  But nobody really can pinpoint the first example of this sin.

Slavery is –follow me closely on this one– working under the constant and immutable threat of death.  It’s important to distinguish between what we modern humans refer to as slavery (the boss dumps sixteen hours of work on your desk when there’s three hours left in the day, but he wants it all done and back in his hands in an hour anyway) with what slavery truly means.  To misunderstand slavery is to belittle the plight of the Jews and other targeted ethnic groups during the Holocaust of World War II.  Those people were worked literally to the bone, then gassed or disposed of in some other economical way when their usefulness had been depleted.  To misunderstand slavery is to ignore the centuries of degradation inflicted on the tribes of Africa, particularly on the West coast, whose bones lie like an ivory highway at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.  Millions of Africans were caught like animals, transported shoulder to shoulder in chains, separated from their children and parents, then sold to slave masters, especially in the United States, to work their lives out until death.  The key difference between Dachau and a Georgia plantation is that the Nazis paid nothing for their workers and therefore had no investment to protect by, say, feeding, clothing and caring for them.  The slave masters had paid money for their slaves and, in theory but at below Walmart costs (cup of beans a month and new old clothes every Spring, for example), invested even more money in their upkeep, figuring rightly that it would be cheaper in the long run to maintain a worker than to replace the worker with a new one (sound like the modern challenge of “employee turnover” to you?).  This investment in the maintenance of slaves put a veneer of respectability on the slave trade that the Holocaust did not share.  And so, while the world went to war for a few years over the Axis aggression against the peoples of Europe and Asia, the world generally turned a blind eye for centuries to the “business” of human flesh trading in the Land of Freedom and Equality.

Fucking mankind.  We are the meanest, most selfish, greedy, heartless motherfuckers on the planet.  And we rule the place.  Imagine if, for example, a woodland deer had written a science fiction novel about deer culture.  There’s the deer, living in peace and harmony, only rarely being eaten alive by some passing wolves, when along comes mankind, shooting the deer at first with arrows, then with high-powered rifles, first for food but finally just to hang their heads on walls, knocking down verdant, lush forests in order to put up strip malls that sell ceramic deer statues in remembrance of their idyllic innocence.  The deer are finally quarantined in small, fenced National Parks where millions of their oppressors come annually to gawk at them and maybe take the occasional shot at one of the bigger bucks.  The science fiction deer writer would have written a tragedy, perhaps a potential million seller.  But deer can’t read, so the writer dies broke and frustrated.  Sounds too familiar.  Just ask the guy who wrote Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.

Anyway, until the machine is invented that runs on perpetual motion, slavery is the most inexpensive form of labor in history.  Its cost in human souls and the depravity of the species is immeasurable.  Things that are immeasurable are easier for people to ignore.  Like world hunger.  Like the effects on society of alcohol consumption.  Like corporate profits when you’re trying for a nickel raise this year.  Nevertheless, keep this in mind always as a supervisor.  Management wants the cheapest, least expensive to maintain, most productive labor money can buy.  And they can’t use slaves anymore (Except in the Far East).  So, they expect you to get as much from labor as possible, using the virtually free labor of slavery as the benchmark for comparison.  Your job just got more complex, and a whole lot harder.

History moved on.  Wars were fought.  And, though “Wars were fought.” is a very small sentence, its importance cannot be underestimated.  There are two reasons things get invented, and more importantly, developed.  First, for profit.  Business sees a thing some poor myopic inventor has created and buys the thing and its rights away from the inventor, develops the idea, produces and markets the thing, and makes billions of times more money on it than they paid the inventor to begin with. Like the poor slob that invented the intermittent wiper on cars.  You know, the thing that lets your car windshield wipers swish once every ten seconds in a light mist so you’re not totally annoyed by that squeegeeing sound made by dry rubber blades across the windshield glass.  The guy that invented that intermittent thing fought the big car companies for his share of the invention (the car companies simply stole the idea first, instead of even paying a gratuity to the inventor) for more than fifteen years.  Millions he spent on legal fees and attorneys. After fifteen years, he got his reward.  The courts ordered he be paid one million dollars, no royalties. The courts, after all, work for the government who, after all, works for the lobbyists who, after all, work for big business.  So profit entered into the court’s decision.  The second reason things get invented and developed is for war.  War has nothing directly to do with profit.  Profit and exploitation usually come immediately after the war and at the expense of the country just defeated. But during a war, there is no expense spared, including the immeasurable cost in human lives.  Four thousand soldiers die in a battle, so what difference does it make that thirty million dollars worth of weapons were used to kill those soldiers?  My God, son, would you skimp on material when delivering death?  Have you no respect for those soldiers you are about to annihilate?  Spend the money, man! Kill ‘em with the best we got, by God Almighty!

The military takes money from the government who takes money from businesses and workers in the form of taxes levied on profits. (Profits as defined by government is “Any money remaining after a business deducts operating expenses, and any money remaining after a citizen buys groceries.”)  It’s a remote connection between war and profit, but it does exist.  So the military takes the money, goes away in secret and says to itself, “What shall we kill today?”  Once a thing is decided upon to be killed, the next question becomes, “How shall we kill it?”  That question prompts the following inevitable conversation:

Admiral Blood:  Kill him with a torpedo.

General Guts: That’s been done.  Why not invent and develop a new type of bullet and kill him with that?

Admiral Blood:  Sounds intriguing.  Why not make that bullet even bigger, stick a motor up its ass, then fire it from a submarine?

As soon as the decision is reached, a telephone is picked up somewhere and a private company is hired to develop the weapon (you didn’t think that business would let government hold on to its tax money very long, did you?)  A sham display is made of choosing the least expensive company to develop the weapon, but the choice is almost always one of three companies anyway: Lockheed, Microsoft, or Dairy Queen (you didn’t think that place could stay open on the sale of ice cream cones alone, did you?)  Lockheed makes motors and mechanical devices.  Microsoft, of course, develops all computer software.  Dairy Queen does the rest: brooms, rags, waxes and solvents, bio-chemical agents such as napalm and anthrax cola, wigs, make-up, uniforms and, of course, ice cream and dairy products leading directly to covert interrogation methods.

Now, the nature of war is similar to the nature of business in its concept of competition.  Just as Burger King can’t use last year’s advertising campaign (though they might use last year’s buns) to entice clientele away from Mickey D’s, one country has a hard time dropping last year’s bombs out of airplanes from last year’s design tables.  The United States and Israel are particularly touchy about killing people with outdated weaponry.  “Please, General, where is your decency and respect for human life?  Are you really going to explode those civilians who happen to be living peacefully in an area recently occupied by a political party that you don’t like with missiles from the Reagan era?  Use Bush or Clinton or preferably Bush-again era missiles.  You wouldn’t want a dud to land and not kill everyone.  There would be witnesses.  Bad press.  Senate hearings. Oh, the humanity!”

So, the hyper-heated race for new and next goes on like the changing of places at the Mad Hatter’s tea party (Don’t wash and re-use. Move!)  The military uses supervisory positions with a twist to the traditional business application.  Whereas both business and the military share an abhorrence for management and upper brass communicating with the rank and file, and whereas they both share an inherent deep-seated desire to micro-manage and control, the two entities differ in their way of obtaining funds.  Business seeks profit and so looks for supervision to enhance efficiency and lower costs.  The military needs funding from government.  More funding each year.  And more on top of that.  How does the military deal with so much money and never ever ever (not ever) show a profit or have one unspent cent in its budget?  Waste.  Massive waste. Waste on a scale not even Franz Kafka could have envisioned.  For the kind of waste the military needs to attain and maintain and then increase, specialized supervisors are needed who have absolutely no idea what a budget is.  Military supervisors think about tasks like this:

If a proposed task is supposed to take one thousand man hours to complete, then you need one thousand men, minimum, to even begin the task.  Now, that task requires each man to be trained forty man hours apiece.  That’s one thousand men times forty men.  We’ve already assembled a forty thousand man task force to accomplish a job that was scheduled for one man in the real world to finish in half a year.  Keep in mind that those forty thousand men have to be equipped and fed, housed (think funding for a new military base) and you begin to get an inkling of how quickly a well-run military operation can chew up your tax dollars.

Lest I be accused of naiveté, let me correct myself.  War does make a profit for the businesses contracted to support the military.  Well, duh.  The first profession after the military (early militias dragged knuckles and clubs in file across the landscape looking for a fight) was the prostitutes who contracted all kinds of things supporting the military. They invested a little time and access for profit. That’s how Northrop Grumman and Halliburton made their first few nickels.

Still, let’s not go too far into the concept of military supervision.  It’s confusing and highly sophisticated and if it caught on in the private sector there would surely be a global financial collapse and bathroom breaks that would go on into the next ice age.  (Man, how cold would those toilet seats be then?  Ah!  Toilet seat warmers!  Put it down for the next union bargaining session.  You can never start too early on items you might need for the future.)  The whole point is that development of ideas pushed the envelop for businesses to reap profits by making things more efficiently and paying people less for doing it.  That’s where the industrial revolution came in. (See how smoothly I got back to the history lesson?)

Some bastard invented the printing press and the steam engine.  These two things go hand in hand because you can’t run an engine for long without an instruction manual and you can’t print enough instruction manuals without a machine running the presses. Don’t get me started on ebooks. Historians will protest that the printing press’s finest and first use was in the distribution of the Holy Christian Bible, King James Version.  But, I’m here to tell you that the whole Christian crusade was just management’s campaign to widen the third-world labor force (Motto: Why work for food and money when you can labor for Christ?)  Ooh, I’m going to hell for that one. Time to become a Hindu.

Anyhow, the steam engine, and its instruction booklet, started a revolution in industry.  In fact, the two things created modern industry.  Even now, as advanced and sophisticated as we are, it comes down to a machine (maybe not steam powered) and an instruction booklet (maybe on computer disc). That revolution changed government as it was back in the day.  Back in the day (I love that expression), government was decided by bloodline, the earliest and most absurd form of nepotism.  Prince became king and king died so prince became king endlessly with no logic to the succession of power in terms of qualities, experience, skill, education, foresight, or wisdom (Oooooh, wisdom.  You don’t hear that word mentioned in a book on business, now, do you?)  Kings had power because they had all the money and could by thugs and mercenaries to impose their wills, like medieval strike breakers, and squelch any labor complaints.

But industry came along and started producing stuff that royalty wanted, needed, enjoyed, craved (here come the marketing department terminologists), could not live without and, more importantly to history, didn’t have a clue how to make on their royal own.  They just bought the stuff.  Shoes for both left and right feet (did you know shoes originally were designed the same for both feet?).  Books about royalty (oh, yes, always feed the consumer’s ego).  Carriages with two horses, then four.  Carriages with up to ten horses and a GPS guidance system standard (for a standard extra million florins).  You get the idea.  So, the more stuff that royalty bought, the more new stuff industry invented.  Toilets.  Plumbing.  Indoor plumbing. Toilet seat warmers!  Damn!  Royalty had to have it all.  And they paid dearly for it.  And the industrialists got filthy stinking rich and could buy their own thugs and mercenaries and no longer feared royalty and no longer listened to royalty and set sail for America to commit genocide on the Indians and start a society based on freedom, racial slavery,  and the right to work for minimum wages.  Well, actually, the minimum wage thing came a hundred and fifty years after the Constitution when labor unions emerged on the heels of emancipation, and fought management to a deadlock standstill lockout wherein labor came to a halt and production came to a halt and profits, gasp, came to a halt.  Okay.  Let them eat cake!  I mean, give them minimum wage!

Man, how things had changed.  Royalty was still rich.  But they were now toothless mannequins parading around in outdated finery for the entertainment of the masses.  Royalty’s truest talent, riding around in carriages and waving smugly at the working masses, was finally openly revealed and put on display, to reach its zenith in that gorgeous confection of humanity, Princess Di.  Unfortunately for the adoring masses, Di died and Dodi died and royalty pretty much shriveled into a smaller space, though the exiled king of Yugoslvia did manage a successful run for Prime Minister, deftly completing in his own lifetime an evolution of political power that took centuries in other places.

Next, and hugely important to the history of supervisors because at the moment in history that we are now talking about, mainly the industrial era, supervisors are running all over the place across huge production factories with hundreds and sometimes thousands of workers doing all kinds of things and needing supervision for each and every one, comes mass production.  Oh for the love of God will someone please put mass production in capital letters and give it the importance it deserves?  MASS PRODUCTION.  There.  It’s done.  I like it.  It now assumes its rightful importance.  Well, almost.  Wait.  I can give it more importance.  Watch.  MASS PRODUCTION! See?  A truly industrious man can improve on nearly anything.  So, there it is.  Mass production came along, some say thanks to Henry Ford, others say thanks to Gerald Ford, and a small fringe block of lunatics give entire credit to none other than Henri Matisse.  Who really cares.  The important thing is that a way was found to take a worker and put him at a work station for eight hours per day without letting him move around (except for bathroom breaks) so that he can be properly supervised without the supervisor going crazy looking for him and every other worker who formerly moved around quite a bit in the giant horse carriage factory, Well, well, well, now we’ve got us a shiny new horseless carriage factory and each worker is lined up in a line to do a specific task that can be judged by the three most important aspects of labor (if you’re not an absolute moron, that is) Safety, Quality, and Speed.  With each worker doing the task assigned to him or her day in and day out, the supervisor can check that things are being done safely.  The supervisor can also make sure that the item worked on is receiving quality attention.  And the supervisor can insure that the worker is performing this safe and high-quality job at the utmost speed to provide the efficiency to the production that, other than the cost of raw materials and sale price, gives the company its most dependable profit margin.  When you know a thing is being made at such and such a rate of speed, you can calculate the labor cost that goes into that item.  Then you can add the raw material cost, cost of insurance and toilet paper, and then generally double that sum for your retail price.

Workers on production lines have become a curious species of being.  They work mass production every day of their working lives and so they come to think in mass production terms even when they aren’t at work.  They eat mass quantities of potato chips, especially those weird fake-fat things that run through you like a case of dysentery.  They drink beer in cases, not just six packs.  They drive massive cars like S.U.V.’s which everyone knows are sold as off-road vehicles when there isn’t a place in America that a citizen can pull off the road and drive without trespassing or breaking some property law. They even develop massive blood pressures for the inevitable massive heart attack.  Massive mass production on a massive behavioral scale.  Everyone similar and not really happy because they aren’t the same.  Similar is not close enough.  On the assembly line each item is the same except for its serial number if appropriate.  And the serial number is only applied because otherwise there would be no way of telling one item from the next.  That’s the mentality the production line worker comes to develop.  He wants the same house as the other guy on the line.  He wants the same car as the other guy on the line.  He wants the same wife.  He wants the phone number of your doctor because he wants the same doctor.  Before you go, do me a favor, give me the number of a girl almost like you, with lips almost like you.  So said an aging social observer by the name of Jim Osterberg.  Give me the same as he’s having.  Damn, if |I smoke the same cigarettes as that guy, then I’ll get that girl or a girl just like her.  See how she’s not really looking at him in the ad?   She’s really kind of looking at me, isn’t she?  Mass production.  Safe.  Built-in quality.  Efficiency as part of the production line’s design.  And a consumer mentality of mass consumption that begins right there with the line worker and extends across the face of faceless America from sea to shining S.U.V. (Closed circuit test course with professional driver.  Please do not attempt these maneuvers with your own vehicle.)

Not long, in dog years, after the onset of mass production, a small, mysterious box came upon the scene, as if overnight across the world each desk was cleared of typewriters and calculators and, do you even remember or know what this next thing is?, slide rules, to be replaced by this white box, keyboard, and television screen, with a white, plastic mouse forever attached to the whole thing by its tail.  You have probably guessed the nature of this mysterious machine by now, that’s right, the tetris/solitaire game box, the fabulous work saver (saving you from doing any work by occupying your time with these two unwinnable games) that, oh, by the way, comes also loaded with glitched, work-related software.  Whereas early potentates would have had us believe that the computer was going to revolutionize the workplace, we moderns have now come to understand that the thing taken in total has added about as much to overall efficiency and dependability as the digital watch did when it replaced the wind-up.  How many people know or remember how long it took to connect on the telephone with some business associate using human operators years ago?  It was infinitely faster, and even the most loathsomely insolent operator from back in the middle ages of corporate America was an angel of diplomacy when compared to the maddening digital voice that steps you through the press-number menus of the present telecom matrix.  It would be better for them to simply leave the message: “If you know your party’s extension, please enter it now.  If not, you’d best hang up now and wait for them to call you because you haven’t a snowball’s chance in hell of winding your way through the labyrinth this message is about to lead you into.”  So, as a historical, industrial footnote, computers came along and altered pretty much nothing, unless you consider doing everything faster, and by “everything” I, nor anyone else, has the slightest clue what is meant, but if you consider getting that stuff done faster an improvement, then so be it.  You’re probably the one who knows your party’s extension.  Please press it now and get the hell out of this book.  The rest of us must get on with real life.

Now, let it be noted at this transitional phase of labor, the robots are coming.  They are, in fact, here, and that has put a serious dent on labor in the Western world.  Many otherwise qualified steel workers and header card staplers have found it necessary to learn phrases such as “Welcome to WalMart” and “Would you like fries with that?” in order to keep their cable t.v. on. Did the supervisors go away?  Not really.  They yell at the IT department and the maintenance people and sometimes at the robots. As long as the bosses don’t want to mingle with anything like the masses, dancing up there at Prince Prospero’s masqued ball, there will be a need for that severely depressed, underappreciated position filler, the supervisor.

And so history moved forward on the backs of slaves for many thousands of years, and more briefly in recent times, on the backs of what is generally referred to as hard-working laborers, union or non, sort of living those small lives of quiet desperation, easing into dementia like a million Willie Lomans, doing the nine to five work week with loyalty to family and firm and little expectation of recommendation, advancement, or a raise, seeking nothing, really, other than a two week vacation each year, a kiss goodnight from a loving child, a hot dinner, soft bed, and the speedy and excruciating death of their goddamn boss.

Advertisements