Magazine article The Spectator

Flowerpot Men

Magazine article The Spectator

Flowerpot Men

Article excerpt

Lately I've been having recurring nightmares about my stint as a machine operator in a plastics factory. I used to perch on a stool beside a hissing, clanging, injection-moulding machine from eight in the morning to eight in the evening. Every 30 seconds or so the presses would slam apart and I'd yank back the safety guard and remove a hot plastic flowerpot. Then I'd slam the guard shut again, trim off the 'gate', pare away any superfluous 'flashing' with a craft knife, and stack the flowerpot in a cardboard box.

(If you look carefully at anything made of plastic you can usually see the point at which the molten plastic entered the mould and solidified into a kind of stalk, which was afterwards snipped off by a Chinese peasant in search of a better life.

That small, circular bump is the so-called 'gate'. If the molten plastic has been squirted through the gate at too high a pressure, or the molten plastic was too liquid, your object might also show signs of a diaphanous excess of plastic around the edges that our Chinese peasant, perhaps disillusioned already, hasn't bothered to trim off. That untrimmed excess is called 'flashing'. ) By the time I'd trimmed and stacked the flowerpot, the presses had opened and delivered another. I did this about every 15 seconds, six days a week, for two years. At the end of the shift I handed over to some drugged-up guy who was prepared to come in and sit there all night for slightly more money than we got on the day shift.

We lunched beside our machines. There was no overtime rate, no Christmas bonus, no paid holiday. The temperature was never less than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The noise level was such that you had to wear ear defenders. The couple of operators that had been there for a decade or so were completely bonkers.

One day this new, skinny guy with hair down to his waist stopped by my machine and yelled that he was going upstairs to tell the boss that all we machine operators were joining a trade union and that he was going to represent us. He was very excited about the idea, he said, and so was everyone else. In that case, I was too and I gave him the big thumbs-up.

I watched him walk between the rows of hissing, clanging monsters and at the far end climb the wooden staircase to the boss's office. …

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