Book review: Life on the line

Solange de Santis is a journalist who’d never held a blue collar job in her life. She wondered what it would be like, so she took such a job. For a year and a half! Now that’s commitment.

But it’s also something more. What drove her was partly curiosity about a different work environment and the desire to show that she could overcome a completely new set of challenges – but her book Life on the line which describes her experience also shows that there is more to it. The blue collar life has an attraction that shines through almost every page of the book. It may be rough, dirty, physically demanding and underpaid. But it is also challenging, giving and lets you meet many fascinating people.

Solange got a job at a GM van factory that was slated to close 18 months in the future, and this added to the intensity and relevance of the experience. What happened to the 2700 people working at the GM Scarborough is happening again and again in companies all over the world.

And if there is one lesson, that I take from the book, it is that the stereotypical view of factory workers is dead wrong. Many if the people she meets are dedicated, hard working, highly skilled and creative. But the way they work offers them no opportunity to use those sides of themselves. They’re locked in a tight battle between management and unions that actually has them cheering when production stops, giving them an unexpected break. This is not what they’re naturally like – it’s a reaction instilled in them by an inhuman system.

Solange made it through some very tough times (especially at the beginning) and I have the deepest admiration for her, for having stuck with it. The resulting book is fascinating – I almost couldn’t put it down, I constantly had to know what would happen next. It’s also a fascinating glimpse of a different work environment that most white collar workers will never see for themselves. Managers would gain immensely from reading the book to get a view of management seen “from below”.

The book is especially relevant for our work in the Happy At Work Project, because most of our customers so far have been white collar companies. This begs the question: Will the same methods work for blue collar workers? And after having read Solange’s book I remain convinced that they will. The difference between the white and blue collar people is much smaller than we think. And in the end we all have the same ambition for work: That it will make us happy!

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