Tuesday, September 18, 2018

the last book I ever read (Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein, excerpt eight)

from Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein:

Matt is part of what turns out to be a large tribe of GM gypsies who have converged on Fort Wayne. Since it opened in 1986, when it inherited the assembly of pickups that had been made in Janesville, Fort Wayne has been a truck plant. And after the General Motors bankruptcy nearly two years ago now, the company decided to move to Fort Wayne, too, the heavy-duty pickups from a plant in Pontiac, Michigan, which closed as part of GM’s restructuring. So, Fort Wayne added a third shift last year and, to keep trucks moving along the assembly line around the clock, imported nine hundred workers who had been laid off, just like Matt and the other Janesville GM’ers. The imported workers came from twenty-five GM facilities in eleven states and, while some arrived with their families, many are gypsies, like Matt. In fact, the plant manager goes home on weekends to Dayton, two hours away. The personnel director goes home on weekends to Chicago, a three-hour drive. Gypsy or not, many of the imported workers arrived with their all-important anniversary dates earlier than those of some workers who already were in Fort Wayne, which meant that their greater seniority let them claim better shifts and better jobs in the plant. Matt is a second-shift team leader on the trim line, coordinating a small group of workers just after the truck bodies have emerged from the paint shop. On this part of the assembly line, they install the weatherstrip, the insulating mat that goes under the carpet, the seatbelt bracket, the sunroof. Second shift is what Matt through was best, because it means that his work-week doesn’t start until Monday afternoon, so he can sleep at home Sunday nights.

The gypsies from all these plants and states work side by side, yet their loyalties stand apart. Until he came here, Matt never really thought about the fact that some autoworkers might be Republicans. And sports allegiances are serious and in plain view on the factory floor, with baseball caps and T-shirts making clear who roots for the Indianapolis Colts or the Chicago Bears or the New York Jets or, of course, the Packers. Matt likes wearing his Packers cap, but in general he is not one of the gypsies who are having a good time while away from hom. His roommate, Kip, plays cards at a guy’s house on Tuesday nights and sometimes goes to Wednesday game nights at the local UAW hall. Matt isn’t in Fort Wayne to have fun. He lives as cheaply as he can. Lives pretty much on cereal, Campbell’s soup, and ramen.

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