The 30 Year Layoff

From October 1, 1974 until October 23, 1981, I was an employe of International Harvester [ IH ] (now known as Navistar). During that time I was laid-off several times and on strike for nearly six months at one stretch. At times I held entry level jobs but managed over the years to work my way up to being a machinist.

Being laid-off had the usual economic disadvantages. I was laid off in in 1975 and 1976 when no jobs were available during a big recession and rising costs. My wife and I almost went broke in 1976 while she was pregnant with our daughter. We learned lessons from those times.

One of the lessons was to acquire new knowledge to help prepare for better jobs as a machinist when I was able to return to work. That knowledge paid off starting in May 1977 and I’ve never stopped learning since, adjusting to changing economic opportunities and new careers.

My actions were the key to adapting to the ever changing cycles of the free enterprise system. I learned in the first layoff that there are no guarantees in employment. There is a safety net of sorts, but it is short lived and can’t be counted on for sustenance.

The longest I ever received unemployment insurance at any one stretch was the basic six months and part of a 3 month extension. That was as much unemployment insurance that was made available to people. I was one of millions unemployed that time in 1975-1976.

Facing the loss of government subsidies is very motivating. I became creative in the work I found in June 1976 by end-running the hiring process at a large business by just showing up as if already hired and started getting paid. I can’t imagine  a better outcome by sitting around or marching around complaining about my plight.

I know firsthand the stress of being unemployed for long durations. I learned to use my time better by starting my own businesses. There are no guarantees when you work for someone else and none when you work for yourself. There are no guarantees when you expect that a government will bail you out forever. Looking for guarantees is a waste of time, but people are entitled to not take my word for it and find out for themselves.

When I returned to work at International Harvester in May 1977 I started using my new knowledge I studied during my layoff concerning machining practices, time-study, and business processes. It enabled me to get better paying jobs inside IH. Before the end of that year I was earning a great deal more than before with a high-paying position and working lots of overtime.

I returned to college in August 1979 taking evening classes to learn more skills that helped me ever since. I was still working as a machinist full time so the load on me was pretty heavy, but well worth it.

I was on strike as a United Auto Worker from November 1979 until April 1980. I stood picket lines and continued to go to school during the strike. In my discussions with other skilled-trades strikers, I became motivated to set my goals even higher once we returned to work. A quote from my strike page is below:

 Workers picketed the company and received a very small amount of pay from the union for picket duty. I found a group of older men that picketed on Friday mornings and they informed me of skilled trade positions in the firm. Those discussions led me continue my college studies to prepare for openings in that arena. I enjoyed their company, even through the very cold winter weather on that picket line back then.

Here’s what was happening on the inside of the plant where I had worked. The company forced every staff (non-union) and management employee to work 12-hour days, seven days a week during the entire strike. They even forced the company doctor to work on the machines! Product went out the door and returned when the quality of the product wasn’t accepted by the customer. It’s not so easy for people not trained in the proper skills to manufacture quality product. The company learned that lesson the hard way with returned product.

Another factor of the round-the-clock forced labor of management personnel was the pressure on those folks to maintain a healthy family life. Many management families suffered divorce and huge amounts of stress due to the slave hours the foreman and general foreman had to work. I guess they began to understand mandatory overtime isn’t as great an idea as it sounds.

Knowledge comes in many forms. Personal experience can be one of the greatest teachers of knowledge and imbues the truth that there are no guarantees in life. The people protesting conditions nowadays are exercising a right as long as they do so peacefully. When they tire of that expression I hope they have discovered a more productive way to spend their time.

I was laid-off from IH 30 years ago today at the start of another recession. I had enough of that work cycle. I decided to take my home computing hobby and taking a chance, trying to find new ways to earn a living. It was a struggle, but so is waiting around for guarantees.  A quote from my 30 Years Of Computing page is below:

As months and years rolled by, I found I was in the right place at the right time because I had developed my math and computer skills. I had some great teachers in my first computer technology job who steered me in the right direction. One job led to another those first few years. Then I started earning a lot of money as a consultant and the doors of opportunity opened wide.

I encouraged and taught other people when they sought assistance. I have had a positive effect of many people, the “Pay It Forward” philosophy at work.

Had I not been laid-off in October 1981 and instead worked steadily through as a union employee I could have retired with 30 years service in 2004 if I wanted or kept on working until a later retirement. Of course, that means my nation’s economy would have never suffered more recessions, my company never sold to another American conglomerate or to the Chinese. In short, had every guarantee imagined come true, I could have had a guaranteed future. But the reality is much different.

There are those that live in dreams and those that make dreams come true to life. The former is easy to accomplish, just sit around dreaming. The latter is harder but much more fulfilling. I know that from personal experience.

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About Don Larson

Using computer technology since June 1980.
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