Green is the color of humility. I think back to my days as a poor college student in the 60s. With an ill-defined future, I, along with my classmates, knew all the answers to all the questions that had been asked throughout time. And if you didn’t believe us, we’d tell you again with raised voices so you’d better understand how right we were.
However, money, or lack thereof, was always an issue, so when the local tractor works started hiring in the fall, I applied and was hired. I knew the job was temporary; the tractor company hired extra workers every fall so inventory could be built up for their fourth quarter. Then they could give the regular workers extra time off during the holidays but not fall behind in production. Not a bad plan for the company, and the pay was good for me, even knowing I would be laid off before 90 days so the company wouldn’t have to pay me benefits. Hopefully, I could save enough money to see me through the next semester.
My job was not difficult, but important; I was the link between engine assembly and testing and tractor assembly after the engines were tested. There were many different engines of varying sizes and features. Engine test was on a different floor from engine assembly and tractor assembly. An elevator was the link between floors, and it was my job to receive the engines, hanging on rails, and push them into the correct row to test. Then after the engines had been tested, I took them from the testing mechanics and lined them up in the correct order for tractor assembly. Some physicality involved, but fairly simple.
I tackled the job, feeling important, my first taste of real life in a factory. The men I worked with were for the most part nice guys who accepted me as a greenhorn from college who would only be doing this job for a short time, opposed to their presence until retirement, which meant that as long as I didn’t project a “better than” attitude, we’d get along fine.
The glitch in this relationship, however, occurred when the union steward showed up to sign me up for the union. The thought was, of course, that the union was responsible for the pay I enjoyed, and therefore, it was only right that I do my part and join. I was not philosophically opposed to unions, but I saw the dollars going to the union coming out of my pocket, and I was reluctant to part with them. I resisted for quite some time.
And then my job became more difficult. The men I worked with stopped doing little things that had helped me when first hired. The engines they tested were just left hanging on the rails that I used for sorting and moving them into their proper position. They stopped including me in conversation at lunch. I started hanging out in the locker room at lunch and reading a text book, arguing that I wasn’t being antisocial, but I needed to get an assignment done. And then my lunch started disappearing.
In the end, I joined the union, paid my dues, and received a union card for my money. And relationships improved until I left before reaching 90 days of employment. I was going away; the men I worked with would be returning, day after day, for as long as they could see. I was going back to my books; they would return to their squirrel cage until spit out at the end of their run.
I learned many things through this experience. I gained new respect for the labor force that keeps the wheels of our society turning. I gained new respect for the college education I was engaged in and the promise it held. But mostly I learned to be humble. There is a real world separate from academia, and in that world, and big questions don’t have easy answers, and only a fool would be audacious enough to suggest anything different.