United Auto Workers

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Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line, authored by a GM "shoprat", Ben Hamper, is testimony of the aches and distress of an auto worker on the rivet line in the 1970's and 80's. This book describes and gives a picture of the reality of working class life and the impact the United Auto Workers (UAW) had on Hamper and his colleagues' working conditions. Hamper's recollection of his and hundreds of other American workers experiences on the assembly line is simultaneously hilarious and tragic. The UAW not only impacted working conditions for the GM workers of the time but affected working conditions for future generations across the U.S. The GM sit down strike in Flint, Michigan in 1936 changed American labor history and world labor history. The young Auto United Workers took a stand by sitting down and protesting in the factory. They were sick of the way they were being mistreated and underpaid. The employers fought back by turning down the heat in the winter and by cutting off all electricity. On February 11, 1937, the workers finally prevailed and got what they wanted: a contract agreement and respect. They received a contract between GM and the UAW. Basically, this contract stated that GM recognized the UAW as the official bargaining agent for the workers. GM workers also won higher wages; those who made the cars could finally afford to buy them. This was good for the economy. More money meant more consumption. The pension and wages won by the workers raised the standard of living for the whole country. Ben Hamper, a fourth-generation factory worker, raised on hard-core music, liquor and drugs, given a religious school education, was the eldest of eight children deserted by their father, supported by their mother. His entire life, he was determined not to follow the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Hamper, as a young boy believed "a young man should blossom into clever vocations." However, soon after high school, married and a...
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