Celebrating a career spent defending inefficiency
The media noted that today was Buzz Hargrove’s last Labour Day parade as head of the Canadian Auto Workers. So, on Hargrove’s retirement, let’s look back at the incident that inspired him, as he related in his 1998 biography:
The sweeper’s name was Gino. He was a short, stout, bald-headed Italian guy [good colour, Buzz!] whose job was to keep a certain floor area clean of dust and debris. Gino could sweep his area in four hours out of an eight-hour shift. The rest of the time he would read pocketbooks. Well, given that he could get through his day’s work so quickly, management started pushing for him to sweep a larger area. But when they came with their stopwatches and clipboards, Gino would sweep exactly his area of responsibility and make it take eight hours.
Management knew he was capable of sweeping a larger area and was challenging their authority. They suspended him for a day. If he continued to ignore their order to sweep a larger floor area, they would continue to suspend him. In no time Ken Gerard was facing off with a big, tough-looking plant superintendent by the name of Ed Charette. These two had earlier had it out in a bar over another plant issue and Ken had beaten the stuffing out of Ed. [now there’s the CAW thuggery I remember from the 1996 OPSEU strike!]. So management now backed off. Under supervision, Gino swept his floor area for the next three nights in exactly eight hours. Ken stayed around and made sure Gino was not hassled by management. In a few days, Gino was again sweeping his area in his usual four hours [and presumably reading for the remainder of his shift]. Management was nowhere to be seen.
For a young buck like me who had never had anyone in any job come to his assistance, I was fascinated that the union could play that kind of role. I thought of that supervisor in the pipeline camp in Alberta. If there had been a union steward standing up for me at that creek in minus 30 weather, I would have been able to say “no way” and still keep my job.
I know people will jump on the Gino story to show how much boondoggle unions support, how lazy workers keep employer costs high. But that is not the point here [not until the company goes under, anyway]. What we are talking about is power. If you do not fight, you lose. The company holds the power [no, the consumer does]. The amount of power a union has depends solely on the extent to which we can build solidarity with our members. Gino’s fight was not over the size of the floor he would sweep. It was over who had the power to demand what a worker had to do.
--Labour of Love, Buzz Hargrove with Wayne Skene, pp. 54-55
A good student of Marxism would recognize Hargrove’s analysis as a lesson in indirectly “seizing the means of production.” But socialism failed to spread worldwide and CAW plants were hard-pressed to compete against automakers whose managers did not have to put up with such bull. Thanks to Buzz, there is a lot less floor-sweeping or other union work in the auto sector worldwide.