Magazine article Monthly Review

Manufacturing America's Dreams

Magazine article Monthly Review

Manufacturing America's Dreams

Article excerpt

Auto companies shield their low-tech exploitation of workers behind high-tech displays of mechanical prowess. The less a consumer knows about the blood and guts of manufacturing, the easier it is to buy the dream. So how does America think all this crap gets built?

Last summer, in a desperate attempt to entice young viewers to buy grandpa's dream car, General Motors (GM) ran a TV ad that featured a chorus line of robot arms dancing to techno music around a series of Cadillacs strutting like runway models on chrome-plated wheels.

Fascination with robotic fabrication isn't new. Fiat glamorized the magic of manufacturing with a video of a Strada built entirely by robots in 1979. The only human touch was the baritone bellowing Rossini's "Largo al factotum," triumphantly in the background. Nevermind the film crew had to cross a picket line to access the factory.

Advertisers can't hope to fulfill our dreams if we're troubled with the comfort of workers. Therefore, automation, not brawn and bravado, is the vaunted paramour.

Don't let yourself be seduced and deluded. The auto industry's master talent isn't robotics, it's the ability to automatize humans- including drivers.

GM teamed up with the space team at NASA to create the next generation of humanoid robots. Collaboration may assist astronauts, but more significantly it will enable the next generation of autos to relieve drivers of the task of attention. Travelers will be conveyed to their work and consumer stations in a bubble of uninterrupted complacency. Punch in your destination, sit back, and relax. Auto ambiance will massage both body and mind with a gravity-free experience which will tranquilize resistance and maximize pliability.

For the masters of neoliberalism, it's not just about the money, it's about control: a monopoly not only of the market-where consumers serve the investing class-but of the mind, where class is demolished by trivial choices under a blank mask of individuality.

Slaves didn't drive pickups to the pyramids, but the law of rulers hasn't changed: to maximize power, dehumanize labor. For the master class servants should be invisible and workers should be subhuman- or better yet, inhuman.

Behind every portrayal of vehicular luxury is a factory where profit is measured on a ticker tape of minutes, not stock prices. When engineers set a picnic table full of free snacks in a work area, it's not an amenity, it's a bait pile, a time study contrived to reveal how many extra minutes are available to cram with tasks. Every idle minute ticks a profit lost or a nick of time for the boss to wring another bead of sweat.

Fredrick Taylor, who invented time and motion studies in 1881, was a rube by current standards. He treated humans like machines without consideration for wear and tear, let alone the yoke of mental anguish wrought by automation. Taylor broke up the craft style of work-in which a skilled artisan fabricated a complete product independently at his own pace-into incremental functions which dumb-downed the craft into simple, duplicable, mechanical motions.

Under Taylorism any worker could be replaced at a moment's notice with any available body. Leave your brain at the door wasn't a joke, it was a survival tactic. Work was monotonous, but mastery of the task allowed workers time between strokes to smoke and sip and shoot the shit. Today's factories treat the brain like a muscle. Every worker is expected to be computer savvy and happily able to multi-task adroitly. New auto plants absorb fifty-seven seconds of every ambidextrous minute and the goal is sixty-one.

Back in the day, engineers hid behind pillars with clipboards and stopwatches striving to catch a worker with time on his hands. Today, they're slyer than a Dale Carnegie grad working on commission. They come bearing gifts and award-winning grins.

At the GM warehouse where I worked in 2008, management set up televisions in the break rooms with access to NBA playoffs. …

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