warehouse warehouse

Fourteenth week

by Simone Weil, translated by Pierre Schwarzer,  commented by Pierre Schwarzer & Pujan Karambeigi
A factory just like Simone Weil's?

In December 1934 the French intellectual Simone Weil – just after her PhD – went on a journey: Working for 16 weeks in a factory producing a variety of train-parts. She worked like all others, paid per task. At night, when she was still awake enough to do so, she protocoled her days. And as much as the writing seems to adhere to the industrial conditions around her, the reader may immerse into this mechanical routine – to eventually remember that mechanical production is still inhabited by people in large parts of the worlds.
The diary hereby oscillates between an ethnographic protocol and a Marxist observation of value – her very experience on site juxtaposed with the abstract structure of machines and ownership surrounding her. The calculi of revenues encounter fragments of conversations, remarks on organizational suites and the occasional comment on her own performances. The following text is taken out of Weil’s notebook and from February 1935. For the first time it is translated into English and German. Her notebooks played a crucial role in her successive books.


Fußnoten

  1. I run into her at the subway albeit I work at Renault. She tells me eight days ago she was sick but couldn’t call in and didn’t dare return to Alsthom – (what’s she risking? But… ) Probably an impulse-decision. A gaze of sad compassion when I tell her I work at Renault at the moment.

Fourteenth week

Monday, 4th. – Strong headaches, Monday, when getting up. Bad luck: all day they chose to run the turning thing with infernal noises next to me. At noon, barely able to eat. But it does not impede my speed, and that without pills.
Shells – Only done at 11:45, but not because of me: more than half an hour, surely is lost in the morning (even more) because of the machine. With the buttons, Jacquot says, it never goes well. I persuade him to activate the pedal, despite it being more dangerous. It does not work either; I have to call him again. With orders from Mouquet, he reactivates the buttons. Still does not work. Little Jacquot gets impatient… At 11:10, he starts to dismantle the machine – broken feather. But when he turns it back up, nothing at all works. He becomes nervous, nervous.. The team boss, when I give him my work-coupon (because I renounced to finish the pieces since what counts is what’s done), is sarcastic about J.
Afternoon: Half an hour of rest. Then 2 orders for plaquettes, 520 each, at 0,71% (c. 421275, b. 4). I lose time in the beginning: to take away the pieces, to count them – also to place them with my useless precautions – and bad pedalling (not at full pace: hard pedal). 1st commission done at 3:15, 2nd one started at 3:25 (I lose 5 minutes with waiting, not noticing Jacquot has prepared the machine), done at hell’s pace, my maximum, at 4:30 : here, I’ve earned 3.6 Francs an hour. 1h20 for each. 4.5 + 0.5 + 2h40 = 7, 40 F. Earned Friday and Monday: 12.3 F + 1,35 F + 1.85 F + 14.4F + 0.9F + 7.8F = 39.60 F. On that, 21.2F for Monday. Taken 1 hour Friday and 4.5 hours Monday.

Friday, I’ve seen the heavy machine of Biol being prepared (not ready). The task-organiser says to me: don’t take this task, it’s too hard. I find something else. Monday, I meet Eugénie who does it all day. Am full of remorse. Had I wanted to take the task, I probably could have. And I know how hard it is: it’s what I had done the last afternoon of my ear infection, or at least something equivalent. At 4.5 hours, she’s visibly exhausted.
What had happened with the machine? (idiot me for not having paid more attention). – When I pressed the buttons, the tool sometimes fell down twice; the team boss, seeing this says: “It’s not supposed to do that, that’s all!”. Later, the same thing happens again, but the tool stays down the second time! Jacquot picks it up again and I go on… until it starts again. He then makes me stop. Ilion, who walks by, tells him the “finger” (the feather) of the big wheel is broken. It’s true. But there was, apparently, something else too. One can see that for little Jacquot, the machine is a weird kind of beast.

Tuesday morning. – 3 orders analogue to Monday evening.

  • 600 at 5.6%, little pieces hard to take off, marked 1h15.
  • 550 at 0.71%, m. 1h20.
  • 550 at 0.71% m. 1h20.

Very tiring on the long run, because the pedal is very hard (stomach aches). Jacquot still charming.
Later, running into Biol (nostalgia of heavy pieces giving me remorse), he puts me up on the “piano”, where I spend all afternoon as well, except for a break from 2:45 to 3:45. The 2 orders paid 0.5%, one 630, the other 315.
Minimum duration 2 hours, then 3h15.
Total: 1h15, 1h20, 1h20, 2h45 = 6h40, I would need a break of 1h20 , I think I’ve taken one of one hour, so 20 mins are lost.
At 4h30, very tired, so much so I leave right away. In the evening, strong headaches.
At the “piano” at first lots of effort due to my fears of bad stamps; at the end of the afternoon, it’s a bit better. But bloody fingercaps.

Wednesday morning. – Piano again (630 pieces), it’s going better, except for the finger pains – nevertheless it takes me more than 1h30. I wrote down 1h20. Robert, immediately after, makes me order 50 pieces (c. 421146 27) (Paid?). Nice enough to give me an order of 50 identical pieces he made because it was urgent, to give me time. Difficulties: certain parts don’t fit in. He makes me put them aside for him to do himself. Held back by a heavy fatigue and headaches, spent 30 mins in between the two orders. After, “piano” once more, the same 630, to do differently. I try to speed up and almost make faulty ones; however I’m not letting myself be held back as much by my fear of failure (even though not a single piece is to be lost, sas Biol, because the count is wrong or narrow). I count them again in doing my task. Had first found 610. Found 620 by a few units. The worker that made them before told me she found 630: the second time, I say all units are there, to get it over with. How is one supposed to count correctly when paid 0,5%? 1h20 passed. Afterwards, Robert reviews my work. 2 orders marked 25 minutes each (what?).
Done with all this (including cashing in my checks) at 11:15. I tell the boss I was done at 11:05. He writes down I stopped at 11’o’clock, which would say I was not late this morning. He complains I marked all my checks at once.
Afternoon, break after 2 hours. Then [calottes]: 200 at 1.45%! I should take less than an hour then. But they are heavy and need be carried in a case, and it’s 4 pedalings for each, and 2 operations:

First one puts them like this:
Then at the second operation one turns them around like this:

So with the first montage, one does them all at two pedalings each, then the same for the second operation – so one need 800 pedalings. Yet they’re not that easy to place: on needs to put the screws in the wholes etc. I only got it right at the end of the first operation. I have the feeling I’m not giving all the speed I have. And yet I exhaust myself. In the evening, for the first time , I feel crumbled by fatigue, like before leaving for Monta: feeling I’m beginning once more to slide into the state of a beast of sums. Remains nevertheless: conversation with the storekeeper, visit to the toolshed.

Thursday. – continuing the same pieces until 8. I write down 3h30 : the truth ( forgot to take note of the order. After, c. 421360, b. 230 plaquettes [serrage] at 1,28F %. Done at 9:45. Wrote down 1h10 (has there been a half hour break in between? I don’t know anymore). Did those with Jacquot, the small press in hand. Jacquot always has charming smiles.
Afterwards, break until 11. When stopping, I feel all the weight of my fatigue, awaiting work on will give me with the feeling of sickness. The workers are irritated because of often losing their turn to stop for orders of 100 pieces (among which Mimi’s sister). Jacquot comes, bringing an order of 5000 pieces; it’s my turn. Little round sheets to cut from long bands, with continuous pedalling. Price 0,224% (approximately). I would like to succeed. I start working without other thoughts. Jacquot has only one recommendation: don’t let it get too full, otherwise one risks breaking the tool. My fatigue and my desire to go faster annoy me a little. I start with one sheet, not far enough, which forces me to start the first pedalling once more and fail the piece (1 out of 5000 is little, but were it to happen at each new block, it would be too much). This happens several times. Finally, angry, I put the new block too far once more, it goes across the threshold and instead of a round sheet I get a cone. Instead of calling Jacquot immediately, I turn the block around, but unaware of my fault, I cross the threshold once more (I suppose), and get yet another cone, and right after, the “grenadier” of the tool. Tool is broken. What hurts the most is the dry and harsh tone little Jacquot takes. The order was urgent. The montage, perhaps difficult, was to be done again, everyone was annoyed by similar accidents in the past days (or even the same day?). The team boss, of course, screams at me like an adjutant that he is, but collectively, in a way (“it’s unfortunate to have workers who …”). Mimi, who sees me feeling bad, comforted me kindly. It is 11.45.
Afternoon (sharp headache). Stop after 3h30. 500 pieces, still rounds to cut from strips (what a misfortune!), But with a small hand press. I am horribly annoyed by the fear of starting anew. Actually, more than once I pass the band a little above the threshold at the first pedal stroke, but it results in nothing; every time I tremble … Jacquot regained his smiles (I have to talk to him about some caprices of the machine, which refuses to start, or run several times in a row with a pedal stroke), but I no longer have the heart to respond.
Incident between Josephine (the redhead) and Chatel. He was given, it seems, a very low paying job (at the press next to mine, which is the one with buttons in front of the chief’s office). She grumbles. Chatel hisses at him like rotten fish, very roughly, it seems to me (but I do not discern the words well). She does not reply anything, bites her lips, devours her humiliation, visibly represses a desire to cry and, no doubt, a stronger desire to respond violently.
3 or 4 workmen attend the scene, in silence, half-holding back a smile (Eugenie among them). For if Josephine did not have this bad job, one of them would have it; they are therefore very pleased that Joséphine gets bawled, and say it openly, later, at the stop – but not in her presence. Conversely Joséphine would have seen no disadvantage in having the hard job given to someone else.
Conversations during the break (I should write them all down). On suburban houses (sister of Mimi and Josephine). When Nénette is there, there often are only jokes and confidences that could make a whole regiment of hussars blush. (See: the one whose “friend” is a painter [but lives alone], and who boasts of sleeping with him 3 times a day, morning, noon and night, who explains the difference of “technique” between him and another guy who gives her money, and “deprives himself of nothing”; as far as I understand, the time that she does not spend making love, she spends cooking and eating.)
But with Nénette, it is something else – when she talks about her kids (13-year-old boy, daughter of 6) – about their studies – about her son’s taste for reading (she talks about it with respect). The last days of this week, the week she has been on sick leave at all times, she has an unusual gravity; she obviously wonders how she is going to pay the pension of her kids. 1
Incident of Mrs. Forestier – accident. They inquire about rising funds for her. Eugenie declares that she will give nothing. Joséphine also (but this one must not give often), and adds that Mrs. Forestier went to the factory to say hello to everyone (the very day I returned) because of the fundraising. Nénette and the Italian, formerly her great friends, will give nothing either. She apparently did some harm, not to them, but to several others (?).
The Italian is sick. My second week, she had asked to “go fishing” and Mouquet refused; But there were only two, and there has only been a halt. She has 2 kids; Her husband is a bricklayer (maneuver) and earns 2.75 F per hour. So she can not cure herself. She has a sick liver, and headaches which the sounds of the factory make intolerable (I know that!).

Friday. – Rest. I do not spend the day, as I would have done a few weeks earlier in such circumstances, trembling at the idea of ​​the nonsense that I will perhaps do. Proof that I am a little more sure of myself than before.
Ilion calls me (at what time?) To scrape lids for metros. There is one side: I am very afraid of being mistaken by distraction. 149 covers (coupon for 150) at 1.35%. I do not seek to go quickly, fearing too much to fail: for a single “dead” piece would be of great importance here. An alert: the tool lacks penetration, the notch does not go away. Lots of time lost for handling: there are 3 trolleys. I find 147 of them; commotion of the team boss, who makes me spend 1/4 of an hour to recount (but this 1/4 of h will not be counted as port of the coupon but of the stop) com. 421211, b. 3. Finished at 9 am. Break until 10: tired, worried, I would like to stay out all day. At 10:00 am I was called to remove magnetic circuit boards (which I had done at the end of the first week). I see that it will last until the evening. Considerable relief. I use the technique discovered the last day that I had done (many small blows of mallet) and works well and fast enough (more than 30 pieces per hour, but in the first days I had done 15, and Mouquet had estimated the value of my work at 1.80 francs per hour, since he had told me that in 5 hours I had barely made for 9 working days). No fear of doing nonsense, therefore relaxation. Nevertheless (and although I ate at noon in the restaurant) I feel taken in the middle of the afternoon of a long tiredness and welcome the announcement that I am done.