Tales of Wage Slavery

My first exposure to factory work was as a temp on the night shift of a power cord assembly line at Felchar in Kirkwood, NY. I was wasting time between high school and college in the summer of ’89 and it wasn’t supposed to be anything serious. I’d grown up in what I thought was a “middle class” household, never realizing how good I had it or how naive I was. I hated it. It was dirty, it had a stench that clung to your clothes and the heat in the building was oppressive. I had only been there a few days when I witnessed true desperation for the first time. I just didn’t recognize it for what it was.


Two work stations away from me was a heat stripping machine designed to melt away the coating on the wires that were placed into the harness assemblies. I watched the woman running the stripper look around and then she placed her hand into the machine. And then she pressed the button that triggered the stripper. The machine did it’s job, only it did it to her hand. I still remember the sick smell of the burnt flesh. I heard the first real screams of pain I’d ever heard that night. I can still see her face and the tears as the ambulance team took her away. 


About a week later, while on break I accidentally overheard some of her friends talking. She had done it because she couldn’t afford a sitter for her children so she would be able to work, but couldn’t afford one and to feed her family at the same time. As an immigrant, she didn’t feel she had another choice. Once they realized I was standing there they stopped talking about it and one of them approached me. She told me I didn’t belong there because I was taking a job one of her people needed desperately.


I didn’t last much longer on the job. I couldn’t get past what I had seen. I couldn’t get past feeling guilty that maybe someone was doing without because I wanted play money. I remember the safety people coming around to investigate the accident and without understanding I was helping her, I lied. I told them I didn’t see anything. That I was concentrating on what I was doing and not the woman who’d been burned. I left that morning a different person. I never went back.



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