Friday, March 28, 2008

Mitsibushi Closes - navel gazing 380

From about 1989, when I was 14 to 1998 i spent various summers working as a Trades Assistant on various sites. I worked at a foundry and tyre factory and would end up dirty and sooty, coughing up black. I worked a snack food factory which seemed great at first, scooping up hot crisps and corn chips fresh from the fryer but you quickly realise you just ate 10 handfuls of warn unflavoured crap directly from a vat of boiling oil. Plus after crawling through A/C ducts cleaning filters you ended feeling greasy. Working labratories and private homes was ooookay but you had to be so tidy and careful that you spent too much time trying pussyfooting around you never got anything done.
My favourite was working at Mitsubishi - it was close to home (i could walk) and it was relatively comfortable and clean. I enjoyed decommissions - which entailed just taking shit apart - ripping through metal with a grinders and oxy torches, bashing stuff with hammers and pinch bars, destroying 30 tonnes of metal over a couple of weeks. It was more fun than having to lay 5km of pipework 6 metres above the ground or installing massive runs of duct work where the powers that be have it measured it out to the millimetre (with no gap for error) so you spend more time making (ie forcing) things fit than putting things together. Since i was the low man i had to do all the painting (which they always made me do once it was installed instead of beforehand), sealing with sticky-sticky sealant, sweeping (i was always careful not to turn my brain completely off because i feared i'd re-enact Turbo's Broom scene in Breakin') and generally carrying everyone's tools.

But i worked with some great guys; the welder who showed me how to plan out a job and get it done - skills i use in Project Management; the plumber who instilled a love of jazz; the electrician who's general good dispostion after 9 days of 8+ hour days was unfathomable but well appreciated. All guys who i still think fondly about and hope to catch up at some xmas reunion party.
It was good to work as a contractor in ever-changing groups, with all types of people in an effort to get a usually not fun job done. You learn patience, problem solving, keeping personalities from ripping each other apart. Like the guy who would periodically ask "When do you wink at a -insert racial epitaph here-?" and then make out he was looking down a rifle scope. He'd get a bit cranky if you'd finish the joke for him, so you'd have to put up with string of degoratory terms and then meekly laugh. There was the good natured speed-freak who had a new computer component every week which he would describe in great detail in an effort to impress (at this point i had no idea about computers - and some say still don't). There were the bikers (the anglo one who hated immigrants and his Maori mate) who invited me to Bikie events because they were doing security and it would be fun and then were surprised when i declined (i was 16).

The last summer i worked at Mitsubishi, i was the longest serving employee of the contracting company (tells you something about the company) and somehow that gave me the ability to provide Safety Talks that Mitsubishi now required all contractors to undertake. So I mumbled for 3 minutes stuff like 'don't run power leads over puddles', 'wear some type of glasses when using a grinder' 'wash your hands'. That summer i almost killed a group of electricians milling around a console when i dropped a sheet of corrogated iron (.9 x1.8m) from 3 stories up, it missed the group but gouged a nice gash into the cement floor. I skitted down asap and casually picked up the sheet "hey fellas, sure is hot ain't it? how about the cricket?". I believe a walk out was barely averted.

Well, yesterday was the last time those guys walked out. The factory is now closed after 40 years of producing cars. It seemed like a good place to work. The social club raised hundreds of thousands for charity. And simply in a world where things just seem to be made by faceless people somewhere else, it shows that regular people created a good car in good conditions. Its hard to comprehend that there are workers that have been there for 20, 30 years. Belonging to a generation that flits and skips positions at whims, its hard to understand the loyalty of wanting to work for one company for more than 10 years. Possibly more admirable is working in manufacturing for so long - the patience, fulfilment of doing essentially the same thing 48 weeks a year for so many years. And now its over, losing a job you like sucks, especially when that job gets cut from the company for financial reasons. Having to move on, knowing that you did nothing wrong, is hard to do.

Being one of the few factories in the southern suburbs i hope that something takes its place soon. But theres something reflective about watching those guys file out of the factory gates, opening their bags to be half-heartedly peered at by the security just like i had to do 10 years back, looking for the next job.

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