My sister Linda sent this to me today – it’s an article that appeared in the Pioneer Press, about a little slice of the fast-vanishing lifestyle in smalltown America. It’s about the Hamm’s Beer brewery in St. Paul, Minn.
Besides the immediate aural memory – that of the tom-toms pounding and the deep chorus intoning "From the land of sky-blue waters …" – reading about the way that Hamms treated its employees made me wistful for days before everything got shunted to Human Resources and Risk Management.
"The brewery was a great place to work," recalls Ty Anderson, who was a bottler and a foreman.
"When I went to work (elsewhere) in 1930, I made 30 cents an hour.
When I went to Hamm’s, I made 60 cents an hour. And I never lost a day
of work for the next 40 years."
The Hamm’s retirees, who meet at the Little Oven Restaurant,
remember their company president, Bill Figge, who once learned that a
man’s wife was seriously ill. Bill called the employee in.
"We’re going to take care of all of her hospital bills," Figge told the man. "And, oh, yes, you’ve just gotten a raise."
I have worked at a fairly good cross-section of Corporate America hellholes, and the one thing that each and every one of them has in common is the rampant hatred, paranoia and contempt that they have for their workforce.
Oh sure, the middle management capon will stand in front of his troops and mouth all the proper words: "Here at [your soulsucker’s name here] we recognize that our employees are our most valuable asset blah blah blah frickedy blah"
And then they announce some new employee appreciation campaign consisting of some pre-packaged and sanitized manipulative test-marketed series of morale boosters designed to make it look like something’s actually happening when in fact it never is and never will. Meanwhile, all the really important stuff that the employees want to be a part of – such as the decisions as to who should be promoted, who should be kicked in the butt and told to shape up, and what changes to make to the product and teh company itself to make sure that the product is better – all that is safely ensconced behind the control-freak reinforced drop-forged Executive Suite walls, where no employee is ever allowed to peek.
It is at least as much the fault of employees as it is management. If it were not for the rampant "hey I want a free lunch – I think I’ll sue someone" mentality, and for the absurd jury awards handed out by people with plates in their heads, there would be no need for any of this shit.
I mean, contrast the vision of Corporate Hell from Office Space ("Hey – you don’t have enough buttons on your sash!") with this actual, real, organic way that Hamm’s did business:
This, too, happened at Hamm’s Brewery, which is now just a forlorn
little collection of red brick buildings at the northern end of Swede
Hollow on St. Paul’s East Side. But for 132 years, Hamm’s and its
successors were a major St. Paul employer, a familial place that is now
remembered fondly and with fierce loyalty by 35 to 40 retired bottlers,
brewers, Teamsters, machinists and other workers who gather regularly
to retell all the old stories about Tommy Malone, Three-Two Mike and
Dewey, the horse who drank only strong beer.
Now, just nine years since the brewery closed for good, St. Paul is
on the brink of losing another major employer, the Ford Motor Co.
Perhaps in years to come, when some of the pain goes away, the old Ford
employees will be able to celebrate the company they gave so many years
of their lives to.