I found out what a really lousy system this is for women. I don’t feel General Motors and this system have the right to keep playing these games with me.
Before I started working outside of the house, raising four kids and an alcoholic husband was more than enough to keep me busy. I never went anyplace or saw anyone except for my kids. It was just too hard to drag four kids around.
I wanted to get a job, but with no education and no experience I felt I didn’t stand a chance. When my youngest turned six and started school I felt it was time to get a job and get out of the house — or go crazy. I went to the employment office and told them I would take any job — except house cleaning or babysitting.
They sent me to General Motors for an interview. I didn’t think I would get the job. No work experience at all. I felt I wasn’t qualified. But they did give me the job, not because of me, but because GM needed to hire a percentage of women. I didn’t know about this at the time, or of the struggle women had getting into the auto industry.
I didn’t know that no experience and no education was just what GM wanted. GM wanted it that way because of the brainwashing number they could play on me.
Great place to work?
I was so scared at first, no matter what they told me to do, I did. To me, GM was a great place to work — it was key to the outside world. I was with so many different kinds of people each day. Newspapers, current events, just to be working was great! Earning more money in one week than I was used to having for weeks of household money — and this was mine, I earned it. I would say to my fellow workers what a great company GM was for giving me all this.
And they would say to me, “GM didn’t give you anything! Your union brothers and sisters had to fight for every dollar and every benefit you have. ’ ’ That’s when I started to understand what women had to go through to even get in the plant.
The more I learned the more I grew. I grew very confident in my ability to do my job, to keep my foreman out of hot water with his boss because I could learn fast and work on my own.
But after a year or so of ten-hour days at 60 cars per hour, it seemed to lose the glamor it once had. I started to use those hours to think — to think of the things I had gone through, the things women had gone through, the things the company put me through — the layoffs, the constant threat that if I didn’t come in every day, healthy or sick, I wouldn’t have a job. GM wanted us to blame each other instead of them.
The first layoff hit us with little warning. We all thought that in a few months we would all be back to work, but at least we had full SUB (Supplemental Unemployment Benefits) and medical benefits that would last a year. But that layoff lasted two-and-one-half years! When GM called back its second shift I remember the happy and positive feelings we had going back to work. Only to have GM put us back in the street eight weeks later, and to close down the plant a few months after that.
This layoff really hit me hard, because by this time I had divorced my husband after staying at a woman’s shelter. I was alone with my two youngest kids. My benefits were all gone, and I had only a hope of getting on at another auto plant.
Fighting the system
That’s about the time I started fighting back. I found out what a really lousy system this is for women, especially single mothers. I did get called to work, only to be laid off again a year later, after the company worked us long hours on speeded-up lines with the constant threat of layoff.
I knew the only way to change things was to get involved with my union in the campaign to keep our plant open — to fight to keep my job and to do whatever it took to stop GM from using me like a pawn. I don’t feel GM and this system has the right to keep playing these games with me.
I want to thank the League of Revolutionary Struggle for letting me put out my ideas. I am learning a lot from you about this capitalist system and the alternative to it. This is indeed a year of challenge for us all.