AS TOLD TO NOEL IGNATIEV
I am sixty years old. I have lived in this town all my life. My parents were born in this country. My grandparents were immigrants, from Italy and Poland. I’m a Catholic.
With only a high-school diploma, a factory job was the best I could get. The plant I work at makes surveying equipment. I have worked there for forty-two years. For the first fifteen years I ran a centerless grinder. That was pretty noisy. For the next twenty I ran CNC lathes. Now I run a hobbing machine. The last two aren’t too bad. I do all my own setups. I was never much for reading. I learned on the job.
When I started at the plant it was possible to make a decent living, mainly by working overtime. I couldn’t have made it on forty hours. On the average I have worked a 50-hour week for most of my years. I start work at 6 a.m. and work ‘til 5 p.m., five days a week. I wish it was different but that’s how it is.
There used to be lots of jobs in town. The plant I work at never had a union but others did, and they kept the wages up in the whole town. That started to change in the 1980s when Reagan broke the air traffic controllers union. He called out the soldiers to break their strike. The union at the most important plant in town demanded a raise. The company said they couldn’t afford it and would shut down first. The union called a strike. My brother worked in the office and kept saying the company wasn’t bluffing. One day while people were on the picket line, movers showed up with flatbed trucks and loaded the machines on them and moved the plant to North Carolina. Left behind an abandoned building.
Reagan also promoted free trade, which Clinton pushed through. The companies began shifting jobs out of town. There used to be a couple of shoe factories and a big wood shop, but they’re gone. More empty buildings. The place I work at had 1,200 employees, but it’s down to half that, and according to rumors there will be more cuts.
I blame this on the government. They give everything to the rich and don’t care about the ordinary person who goes to work every day for forty-two years. We need to bring jobs back to the country—manufacturing jobs with decent pay, not at McDonald’s or on the checkout line at the supermarket.
I support Trump because he’s not a politician. I listen to what he says. To me he sounds different from the others. Some people say he’s a racist, but I don’t believe it. I’m not a racist, and I wouldn’t support him if he was. If he brings jobs it will benefit African Americans. I admit he says some dumb things, but that’s because he’s not a politician. When my grandparents came to this country, the government checked them out and knew who they were. Nowadays anyone can get in. I’m sure most of the people coming just want to work, but it only takes one. He’s not the only one who says stupid things. Hillary Clinton called Trump voters “deplorables.” That’s me she’s talking about.
If Trump is defeated, things will continue downhill. I know that even if he is elected he won’t be able to live up to all his promises. But even if he is only able to do one or two things to bring back jobs, that will be worth something. If he is elected and it turns out that all his promises were lies, that would mean he was just like all the rest of them. He hasn’t got a chance to carry my state. I’m voting for him because he stands for what I believe—or at least I hope he does. What else can I do? When the Occupy movement began, I was sympathetic. But that failed. Protesting doesn’t do any good.
I wish I had gone to college like my brothers, who are retired schoolteachers and clerical workers of one sort or another. They made more money than I do and their job was cleaner, but even they had headaches. One of my brothers became a school principal, and he had to deal with students and parents. I don’t know if he really liked his job. What kept him going was he had the summers off, plus he knew he could retire at a halfway decent age, in his mid-fifties.
I know just about everybody on my job to say hello to, but I wouldn’t say any of them are friends I hang out with. Mostly I hang out with my family. When I’m not at work I like to work around the house—outdoor work, trimming my hedges, taking care of my lawn. When I was young and could move better I used to enjoy building stone walls. If I could have made a living as a landscaper, I would have liked that. I do like the outdoors. I am proud of my skill as a machinist, but I wouldn’t say I enjoy what I do. It would be nice to have a job I looked forward to going to. The only people I can think of who like their jobs are professional athletes. If I had a job I really liked I wouldn’t feel so bad about having to go in tomorrow morning.
Noel Ignatiev is editor of Hard Crackers.