My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Times a passin’ slowly

The times are passing on as I advance toward a supposed departure from the US. It has been hard for me to realize that I will be heading to India in about two months. My life as a machine operator at Tokico, the Japanese owned car parts factory that I have been working at in Berea, Kentucky, is to me rather horrid and is the closest thing to a very bad working position to be stuck in. That is the thing that I have realized about my job, that it is temporary. On the 7th of June I will fly out of this country and be gone for two years with the intent of engrossing myself in the complexities and difficulties of furthering my learning of the Tibetan Language.

For my other co-workers this is not so. It is in a way difficult to describe work at Tokico. I make shock absorbers all day long, 10 to 12 hours a day. I do the same eight motions over and over again thousands of times before I go home. As a machine operator one is at the bottom of the factory totem pole. The managers and supervisors expect from the operators the most outlandish of demands. I know some operators who work 16 to 18 hours days, six days a week. The bosses continually expect such dedication from their workers. They expect great quality work, and that everyone works in an orderly fashion, but alas that is where the paradox of Tokico and many factories lies. Managers and supervisors receive a huge bonus at the end of the year depending on how many total parts they have produced, where as the operators might or might not receive one.

These and other crazy demands from the Tokico higher-ups on their employees are a one-way street. There are two types of workers at Tokico at the machine operator level known as the full time worker, meaning that they work for Tokico proper and the temp worker, who like me are paid by a temp agency to work in the plant for a significantly lower wage. Generally, one has to work for a certain period as a temp before one can be hired full time. And there is a supposed process towards this end. There are definitely benefits to being hired full time like increase in pay, and health insurance, which as a temp you will be totally barred from.

First, one has to take an insanely easy test in order to be even considered for full time work, but due to the low education level of this geographic area many fail. I know for I am currently in this process though I am to leave for India. Once one passes this test, then a physical and some drug screenings are pursued after a criminal background had been done. All full time employees have gone through this process. I have desired this position myself as that will help me severely in raising the funds that I will need for India.

One thing that has to be mentioned is that one would think that factory work will be one of the most organized types of work, where the whole plants with the others plants and it customers act like a clock. But this is not the case. At least at Tokico, my experience has been of near chaos and bad organization. The several departments that depend on each other seems not to communicated with each other and most of the overtime that we do could be totally avoided if it was better organized.

This lack of organization has led to a high stress level which can be felt by all the operators at every level of the factory. Just from listening to the lunchroom chatter it is clearly known that no one loves their job. This is a well taken fact. Even for the full time employees, one is obvious being crapped on and worked for every cent that you are worth, without any care for your life or humanity. One can forget about having a social life.

So why would folks work at a place like this? Well, like in many places around the world where there are not many employment opportunities and/ or access to education, factories like Tokico are the only options. They can not do anything else, plus it offers health benefits to its full time employees. Here in Berea, Kentucky, Tokico employs people from all the surrounding counties. Most people live in rural areas that are quite downtrodden and poor. Most folks who work at Tokico would be called hicks or rednecks meaning usually that they are the uneducated working class people of rural Appalachia, and it also has many pejorative connotations as being ignorant or backwards. My experience with these kinds of folks are that they are like every body else whose life and identity are formed from those life experiences, such as upbringing, area of living and so forth that make them who they are. With them being of a rural background as compared to myself as a full-fledged Yankee city boy it is hard for us to comprehend each other. Our manners of speech are very different and even after all these years of living in Kentucky I still have difficulties in understanding their way of speech.

There are also a small amount of Latinos that also work there. Many of course are from Mexico but there is one El Salvadorian and a Cuban man who works there. We always tend to gather the stares in the break room when we start going off in Spanish. Plus most folks even Latinos would not expect that I know any Spanish because of my skin color. I have many of times had to explain my Panamanian roots to my co-workers and have taught the Cuban man’s girlfriend a few Spanish swears to keep him in check.

But on a whole I have made friends with those that I eat lunch and smoke cigarettes with and also to a lesser extent with those that I work with. They are all great people and human in there own way, and we are in a way bonded by the oppression of our bosses and all understand that regardless of the Tokico rhetoric, you will be worked to death. As a lady once told me, “Tokico expects us to shit shocks”.

The most unfortunate thing about this is that the very work that constitutes the livelihood of these workers is killing them. High blood pressure, diabetes, and the threat of a stroke or heart attack are all too common. One guy that I know is having surgery on his kidneys since they are totally shot and he is scared that he could have a stroke or a heart attack during the operation. There is no union at Tokico so workers have no rights! As I have seen from the lunch room, most folks diet consist of soda, machine vended snack food, or microwavable food or some other not healthy crap full of preservatives and junk that only a chemist can properly pronounce. I am the constant bunt of jokes since I ride my bike to work and I’m a vegetarian. I drink water instead of soda, I hand roll organic tobacco instead of your usual tailor made brands like Marlboro or Camel. I will never forget my first day at work at the first break. I took out my water bottle which I keep in a mason jar and one of my hand rolled cigarettes. Every person in that break room stared at me like I was crazy. Why you ask? Well in these areas, usually the only clear liquid that one would be kept in a mason jar is not water but the strong grain alcohol known as moonshine. My cigarettes are fair game to be confused for a joint. Of course once I started smoking it was well known that it was only tobacco. Still after all this time I get the odd look from newcomers which we call “fresh meat”.

There is so much more that could be said about my experience of working at Tokico, but my stint is slowly winding down. I have two months left before I head to India. I know that I am lucky as I have a light at the end of my tunnel regardless of whether I can see it at this point. My body is hurting is many ways, my wrist, my neck, my knees and other parts are in constant experience of pain. I know that I must have aged rapidly since I have started working there. My body cracks like an old man now. On top of that, due to the insane amount of work hours that I push every week I live in a constant state of exhaustion. I have not known what it is to be rested for the longest time now. I spend a total of three hours in awaken state in my apartment when I get off of work. Usually by 6pm my body just shuts down until I wake up early the next morning to do all over again. Well I think that I will end this post, not sure of any future ones before India, I am working on my student visa (wish me luck!!!). All in all, this work experience has been hard on me physically, socially, spiritually and emotionally but it is allowing me to pursue my endeavors in India. I have to say it has been one of the most difficult things that I have had to do in my life. This post obviously has nothing to do with Dharamsala beside the fact of the statement written above.



Jarrod Brown said...

We are, not matter what we are doing. I hope you are centered during your times of work and find some benefit beyond the material ones in your labors. I am flying out to Bangalore Saturday to spend the month there. I won't have much leisure time but am planning on flying to Varanasi for a long weekend before I return, but mostly I'll be restricted to day-trips in Bangalore. Did you make it to Varanasi? --Jarrod

Anonymous said...

Hey good luck for your next trip to India. It's nearly there.

Just curious but are you practising any type of meditation?

Anonymous said...

Do you remember when I went to China?

Aunty Mar

Anthony Naidoo said...

Hey Son, Glad you're okay and doing well, we love you and all very proud of you. Keep up the great work.

LOve: Dad, Mom, Brian & Brandon