Life as a Lemming
It was what my dad called my “character building experience”. Ahead of me was four dreaded months at an OSB mill in Dawson Creek where I would be one of five girls (and the only one with a female-looking body) working among 230 bulky rednecks. The mill was a 400m long concrete building in which logs went in one end and left at the other in neatly packed boxes. The mill was a typical Fordist mill and a successful mass-production process. It was a factory filled with union bureaucracy, repetitive tasks, and a production line as well as having clearly defined primary and subordinate workers. As a laborer, I experienced a Fordist operation and environment first hand. This essay outlines the Fordist characteristics of an active mill in northern British Columbia as well as highlighting some of the ins and outs of my experience as a ‘lemming’.
From the first day of work at the mill it was clear that there were two categories of workers, primary and subordinate. By primary and subordinate workers I mean the few, but important bosses (primary), and the hundreds of ‘lemmings’ that worked on the floor of the plant as general, unionized, and unskilled laborers (subordinate). I was a lemming. As a subordinate worker I joined the uneducated workforce in a job that demanded absolutely no mental stimulation and only that I follow the rules clearly outlined for me. Each job along the production line usually involved only one simple task which happened every 2 or so minutes (when the boards moved along and fresh ones filled their places) and there was no rotation of skills. A job usually demanded pushing a total of three buttons in a cyclical period and ensuring that everything looked normal. It was that boring. Twelve hours of pushing the same three buttons in the same order, four days in a row, and then four days after- start the whole cycle again.
The primary workers, on the other hand, sat in their own offices and had their own fancy desks. After all, it was a billion dollar corporation. They were granted salaries, longer lunch breaks, vacations, better benefits, and bonuses for reaching high production goals. Management was not unionized. In addition, the mill was filled with several carcinogens and dusty environments which the primary workers were rarely, if ever, exposed to. Their jobs were secure and involved imagination and innovation. For example, management came up with new policies, designed new programs and encouraged job safety among other tasks which had large impacts on the general functioning of the mill.
The subordinate workers had recently suffered some job losses. This industrial restructuring was an effort made by the mill to replace labor with machines, and indeed, it worked. For the past few years the mill had been replacing jobs which traditionally employed numerous people by machines which typically needed only one ‘lemming’ to oversee it. For example, in the past year alone six jobs had...