In today's increasingly mechanized world, where the bottom line so often takes precedence over human considerations, the working man never knows how long it will be before he is replaced by a machine. It's no secret that some in management at Gillian's Fish Products, where I work, feel that automation would improve productivity and quality control. But what they don't understand is that they will lose something far more valuable if employees are let go: the resentful human touch.
No mere machine can replace the embittered alienation of the flesh-and-blood worker. Sure, machines may be able to gut whitefish in the blink of an eye. But would they be able, as I am, to despise and bemoan their miserable lot? To seethe with the unbearable knowledge that this will be their sole livelihood until the day they die? To identify with the glassy, sightless eye of every fish as their sharp blades spill the innards out?
Whether it's scaling each cod and struggling to suppress the repulsion and loathing within, or de-boning each haddock while fighting the impulse to drop the knife and walk out of the factory as far as your legs can take you, such sentiments could never be reproduced in mechanical form. Those special qualities can only come from one source: exhausted men and women forced to feed and clothe their children on a pauper's wages.
Replacing us with machines will increase profits, but can a dollar value be placed on the labors of someone who drinks before his morning shift just to get through the day? And when the machines are sitting in six-inch-deep gore at day's end, will they go home and take out their frustrations on family members and loved ones? I think not.
A machine can only contain wires, diodes, and gears, not the living, breathing sum of life's screw-ups, heartbreaks, and regrets.
You can install machines, but you can't install the permanent smell of fish in your nostrils, or hands that have been roughened, swollen, and discolored from years of fish dismemberment. You can build a machine to replicate the same repetitive motions we perform five backbreaking days a week, but all the engineers in the world cannot build a machine that will repeatedly bang its head on a locker, silent tears streaming down its metal cheeks, as it contemplates its wasted life.
Can a machine fume about years without a decent vacation, or having to pay exorbitant rent in a company-owned tenement near the factory? This, surely, only a man can do—a deeply self-hating man who loathes every second of his working life.
A machine can break down mechanically, but can it break down emotionally, mentally, and spiritually?
I can, and I have. Every day, a little piece of me dies. Could a machine say the same?
I've worked at this unventilated shit-prison 12 hours a day for nearly 25 years. I have developed no skills other than that of silently counting down the minutes of each workday while cursing my misfortune.
No matter what else they take from me, my utter and total hatred of this nightmarish fish-stick factory will always be mine. After all, isn't that what makes us truly human?