LIFE ON THE LINE by Solange De Santis


One Woman's Tale of Work, Sweat, and Survival
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An interesting tale of personal fulfillment, as a sedentary journalist proves she can hack it on the factory floor of a General Motors plant, but one that provides disappointingly little insight into the larger issues confronting workers in today’s global economy. Wall Street Journal reporter De Santis had always covered business from the top down, writing about CEOs, earnings reports, mergers, and shareholder value. Raised in a privileged background, with an Ivy League education, she nonetheless longed to experience life on the factory floor. Hiding her journalism background, she applied for a factory job with GM and was eventually hired to work at a van manufacturing plant in Scarborough, Ontario. GM had already decided to close the Ontario plant 18 months in the future, thereby “downsizing” 2,700 workers (including the author). Unfortunately, De Santis isn’t really interested in the larger issues: “My interest wasn’t political in nature,” she admits; instead she focuses on “the people on the factory floor—who they were, how they got there” and what they’d do after losing their jobs. The work itself, from installing insulation panels to sweeping floors, proved physically exhausting; but De Santis comes across as tough, motivated, and genuinely concerned with her co-workers. She discovers the twin enemies of every factory worker: physical pain and mind-numbing monotony. Drugs and alcohol were the painkillers of choice among many of her co-workers. She meets a breathtaking diversity of people, from Chas the aspiring rock star to Lance the management wannabe to Gayle the avowed socialist. In one of her sharper insights, De Santis relates the patronizing attitude management often takes toward workers; when the factory achieved difficult production goals, management distributed free coffee, cheap baseball caps, and lots of “consultant hogwash” to “reward” the workers. While this is an absorbing and skillfully written personal account of one woman’s life on the factory floor, it’s doesn’t provide much of a window into today’s often-embattled workforce.

Pub Date: May 16th, 1999
ISBN: 0-385-48977-3
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1999