Half a century ago when I needed summer jobs to support my studies, I would try to find different things each year — tutoring two lovely little girls, writing short stories of enterprise for Fortune Magazine, building houses for factory workers, packing parts in an aircraft factory, destroying bomb fuses for a scrap metal company — Suisman and Blumental in Hartford, Conn. I mention them by name as they were the only company to my knowledge that hired African American men in that area and also gave some scholarships to college.

The most intriguing group with which I worked were the guys at the aircraft plant — most were former oil well workers from Texas — a hellish kind of job, I gather. One day a foreman was discovered face down in a ditch with a knife in his back, so they told me after the usual week of hazing. They called me ‘preacher’ when they learned of my studies in theology and were very protective, as they knew I was working two heavy jobs to earn money for marriage and a year in Oxford — where I also did time as a heavy freight porter at Oxford station.

In those days unions were strong, pay was good, and employers treated workers with respect. There were still some women working in the aircraft plant as a carry over from WW II. The very large husband of one of them apparently got the idea that I was chasing his wife and came at me with murder in his eyes one day. He stopped suddenly and walked away. Wow, I figured, guess I scared him off. Then I turned around and saw that my buddies were putting their switch blade knives back in their pockets.

Needless to say things have changed. Foreign car companies build in our South where unions don’t limit them. Jobs are scarce and even those employed are running scared.

And so things have changed in the U.S.

Ed Kent

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