Factory work

In the factories that I own — all of which happen to be imaginary — the managers are instructed never to pay our workers more than they could make if they quit. Not much less, however, and we do after all pay bonuses to, e.g., those who have lots of children, and modest extras to those experiencing bad luck, too. There are also worker dividends at year-end. But, “paying attention” is what we try to do better than other employers. Alas, all this is complicated by our endless fights with the guvmint Tax and Labour Departments, and the Inspectors from the Department of Redundancy Department. In principle, however, we try to pay less.

This is to be sure that our staff are loyal. Which means, we have to be loyal to them.

We pay monthly, on the nail, never hourly; salaries not wages, as the accountants say. Some of the jobs are in effect piecework, but this is for work contracted out. Inside, work is performed by teams. No team has more than a dozen people, and each has a captain or foreman, often as not elected by his mates. They, in turn, form teams at the next level up, and so on hierarchically. But the focus is on the factory floor, for that’s where production actually happens, as opposed to ventilation and careerism. Working hours are approximate, and shifts are exchanged informally, but deadlines must be met, and persistent slackers can of course be fired. We do expect our foremen to be a little inspiring, though, and paternal in just the right way.

No enterprise is without internal strife, but I’ve found that this can be minimized if morale is kept high. Hence, the elimination of “production lines,” and the emphasis we place on the design not only of our products, but on the physical surroundings in which they are made. It is a little known fact that there is a trade-off between quality and “efficiency” (as statistically defined). As nothing we make is for the low, mass market, and nothing is ever marked down in price, we reverse the usual assumptions about economies of scale. That which hasn’t sold is withdrawn, shipped elsewhere or broken up for recycling. A lot of thought has gone into eliminating waste, especially the human waste of boredom.

True, our competitors hate us. That is because everything we make is the best of its kind — “twice the price but lasts ten times longer; classic style that won’t go out of date.” People told us this was a self-defeating economic strategy, but I’m here to tell you it works. (In my imagination.)

It further helps that we are not trying to dominate any of the markets in which we compete, only to hold our own. The intention is to cultivate steady, really satisfied customers, who trust our workmanship and integrity, and will stick with our goods from generation to generation; who “buy into the brand,” as it were.

The reason I’m so rich (in spirit) is that I learnt, early in life, that hardly anyone works just for the money, unless he is psychotically greedy, or desperate. Most wish to be around friends, who value them for what they do and are. Most would prefer a workplace that is beautiful, and joyous, to say nothing of safe. These are among the perqs we try to provide in all our firms, at Dominion Holdings.

“Community” is often advertised, but seldom delivered in modern life. I think, for instance, of our big car assembly plant, at Lakebottom, Ontario. It has a choir and orchestra. There are several field clubs, the gastronomical workshop in a company cafeteria, the factory gardens with so many volunteers. We have a gym and the rooftop race track, our hockey and baseball teams, the reading circles that meet in our library. There is the med clinic that can handle anything, with its free pharmacy.

A factory is also a school, according to some corporate adage, and gentle reader should see our in-house nursery and kindergarten, our night and apprenticeship classes, the exhibits of models and drawings and even fine art that are scattered about. There are research facilities within the factory “campus,” and workers with bright ideas are quite welcome there (we have a very busy patent lawyer). Many are drawn to the attached garage, in which we restore old cars and trucks for a hobby, while rediscovering lost craft skills. The finest interior in the whole complex, according to me, is the Latin-mass church, dedicated to Saint Eloi (after whom the company was named); though some prefer the smaller meditative “non-denom” chapel for our Protestant, Buddhist, and Novus Ordo staff. One of our managers is also a rabbi.

It is not true that, if you build a better mouse-trap, the world will beat a path to your door. But neither is it true that advertising can save the inferior mouse-trap manufacturer. As any Trump could tell you, the trick is to get people talking, and the less it costs you, the more it pays back. Good faith, good will, and good humour are the watchwords of our publicity operation, and (in my imagination) it seems to be working well enough.