Blue Collar Blues

Where Have All the Robots Gone?: Worker Dissatisfaction in the 70s

by Harold L. Sheppard, by Neal Q. Herrick
Free Press, 222 pp., $7.95

The Hidden Injuries of Class

by Richard Sennett, by Jonathan Cobb
Knopf, 276 pp., $6.95

The Company and the Union: The “Civilized Relationship” of the General Motors Corporation and the United Auto Workers

by William Serrin
Knopf, 352 pp., $7.95

Bitter Wages: Ralph Nader’s Study Group Report on Disease and Injury on the Job

by Joseph A. Page, by Mary-Win O’Brien
Grossman, 336 pp., $7.95

Work in America: Report of a Special Task Force to the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare

HEW mimeographed print, 211 pp.

Question: Were you angry at society?

Answer: I thought if we were poor it was our own fault. I told myself that probably my poverty was the result of some terrible acts of my ancestors. I was sad, but I was not angry.

—A captured trooper of the National Liberation Front as cited by
Frances FitzGerald in Fire in the Lake.

I was commissioned once to assess Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo’s governance of the Dominican Republic. In the course of my inquiries, his minister of labor talked to me. He sat at a desk surrounded by the forty-odd volumes that set forth the Dominican Republic’s social welfare decrees, known, of course, as the “code Trujillo.” “Before Trujillo,” he said, “there was just one page of laws dealing with labor. It was left behind by your Marines. Now”—he waved at the shelves—“there is all this.”

Until two days before, he had been minister of education, and not long before that, minister of tourism, and it was plain that he was barely familiar with the backs of these volumes, let alone their interiors. He called in his assistants: one was fair, young, and even more haughty than the first graduate in labor problems from the University of Trujillo quite deserved to be. The other was old, dusky and calloused of countenance, and gave no sign of speech. He was obviously the Labor Ministry’s only professional, and probably left behind by the Marines too.

The four of us explored the mysteries of the “code Trujillo.” The young assistant explained that the Generalissimo had personally ordered the establishment of a safety program for the sugar workers of the Republic. And how many safety inspectors did the Generalissimo provide? I asked. “Two,” the assistant answered. That would be one safety inspector for every 150,000 field hands at the season’s height.

We passed on to wage levels and I was handed a sheaf establishing modest minimums for carpenters and plumbers, and on and on. One category was absent. Had the Generalissimo, I asked, decreed a rate of pay for common labor? “Common labor?” the verbal assistant asked. “You know,” I answered, “the unskilled worker, the man who breaks up stones in the street.” Bewilderment was plain on the faces around me, and I struggled on until a light seemed to break upon the old professional.

Ah,” he said, “el peon.” He turned to explain to the minister of labor, who looked up at length and said cheerfully: “There is no minimum wage for el peon.”

All the books under review reflect our new interest in el peon. A Nader study team provides melancholy details of how he is treated. William Serrin’s account of the 1970 negotiations between the United Auto Workers and the General Motors Corporation suggests the gap that can separate the worker from his union, even one as admirable as the one that represents him in this case. How he feels is the subject of Sennett …

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Letters

Sticking to the Union April 19, 1973

Sticking to the Union April 19, 1973