13 October 2010

Bob Haldeman Interview (2)

The Three-Year Contract 

Haldeman: I stayed there for three years; I had a three-year contract. 

Swent: That was the standard contract, wasn't it? 

Haldeman: Right. 

Swent: They paid your way if you stayed the full three years? 

Haldeman: No. They retained 20 percent of your salary every month for the 
first eighteen months, in case you quit early, and that 
compensated them. Then you had to pay your way back. 
My first three months in the mine and this was standard 
with all the foreign shift bosses, gringos-- 

winter scene at Sewell:

The Practicante. or Training Period Swent: There was three months of the practicante period? Haldeman: Yes. That meant you were assigned to be a timberman's helper, a miner's helper, and a trackman and a pipeman's helper, knowing no Spanish whatsoever. All the workers there were on piece rate; every bit of work that you did was measured, and you got paid for that. You could make 50 to 100 percent over your card rate with a good helper. Of course, when they got the gringo, who couldn't even understand the orders they would give, they were very disgruntled and unhappy, because they were just able to get their basic card rate; they couldn't get any bonuses on contract. It was hard work. The shifts were an hour in, an hour out, and eight on--ten hours, and you came out just completely pooped. I was staying in the mine staff house with twenty other American and Canadian shift bosses. The food was Chilean style, with a lot of cooking oil in it. The eggs and bacon in the morning were not like my mother made. Instead of an egg cooked in butter and a strip of well-cooked bacon, it was served in a little aluminum dish that they called a paila, it was floating in oil, and the bacon was half-done. Of course, my stomach didn't appreciate this, and for three months I was just miserable. All of us had it. We took in lunch, which was an empty gin or rum bottle full of chocolate milk, an orange, and a ham sandwich on Chilean bread--hallulla, the heavy, unleavened bread. It felt like I had a brick in me every day, and with the hard work it was miserable, no question about it. But it was a wonderful way to learn what an eight-hour shift meant- -how much you could do and how hard the work was because after three months you started out as the boss. You had to be a fair judge of whether the fellow did a good shift or whether he was knocking off or trying to get out of doing hard work on a day's labor. Swent: You really knew. Haldeman: You absolutely knew. After being a timberman's helper, then I became a timberman and had a Chilean helper. During the lunch hour in the mine, you could sit down right where you were working, in the drift or wherever it was. The Chileans wanted to know how you say all the dirty words in English, and they would teach me the words in Spanish. [laughs] Of course, after six months my Spanish was becoming fluent, but, oh, I couldn't use it in social circles; it was really rough language. The Chilean worker was very respectful of the gringo. They would have fights among themselves. They had knives, and they would roll their jacket around their left arm, take their knife, and hack at each other. But I could walk in between them, push them apart, and say, "No. If you get cut up in the mine, they're going to fire you. Don't lose your jobs." They'd never touch me. We gringos were always "Mister"--"Mister Haldeman." [pronounced "meestur"] A high respect for the gringos, so it was very nice. Of course, the nicer you treated them you had to be very stern with them, but if you treated them fairly, they would work their hearts out for you. I just have to take my hat off to them. Aerail Tram and Train at Sewell:

They're very ingenious people, too. They Just never had the tools or the education to be smart workers- -which they are now. They're coming around; the educational system has improved in Chile.

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