Von Roll workforce
Life style and social situation of the workforce:
The life style of the Gerlafingen population was largely dependent on industry.
However, we concern ourselves here mainly with the needs of industrial activities outside and inside the works, affecting the life of working people in the village as well as in the factory.
In fact, the social order in Gerlafingen extends, alongside the company's internal working conditions of the male workforce, to almost all aspects of life outside the factory, particularly the traditional work areas of women.
Men's working and living conditions:
The long-term processes of modernization, rationalization and of the work itself affect the Gerlafingen works equally and, according to the teachings of social history, result in the levelling out of the industrial workforce. However, it would be exaggerating to say that rapid and revolutionary changes were introduced to the working methods in the Gerlafingen works. The truth is that traditional working methods were largely continued throughout the Twenties and the Thirties in the steelworks and rolling mill in Lothringen and the Von Roll works.
Nevertheless, more mechanised equipment, particularly cranes devised to reduce physical effort, was introduced at Gerlafingen during the period of expansion during the Great War and in the Thirties.
But heavy physical work in heat, smoke, dust, fumes and noise was still the rule in rolling mills and the introduction of conveyor belt production, timing and new piecework rate calculation methods did not start to dissolve the traditional wage hierarchy until the end of the Thirties.
Under the old piecework system, agreements were dictated high-handedly by foremen often enough and tensions were inevitable. In addition, grading of the working processes in the steel industry introduced during the inter-war period did not help the levelling trend.
In those days, the Gerlafingen works consisted (to simplify it) of four units:
Steelworks, rolling mill, forge and manufacturing workshops..
The work of tradesmen and unskilled workers has always been regarded differently in all factories. The number of workers in these two categories is roughly the same everywhere but unskilled labor is dominant in the forge and the steelworks. Both tradesmen and unskilled lworkers are paid by the hour but most tradesmen (skilled and semi-skilled) are paid on a piecework basis and are approx. 25 percent better off than the unskilled workers most of whom are paid fixed hourly rates. If we consider that each of these work sectors differentiates between these two categories of workers and each of them takes pride in its own work, the differences within the workforce and their hierarchical positions at the place of work are considerable.
Continuation of the traditional working techniques and piecework calculation maintains finer social distinction between the qualifications and hierarchical positions at the place of work within the different works.
Vocational training and party membership:
Differences in qualifications and wages between skilled trades (e.g. turners, smiths, fitters, bricklayers, carpenters and electricians), semi-skilled trades (smelters, rolling-mill workers, die-forge workers, press operators, millers, cutting and drilling machine operators etc.) and unskilled auxiliary workers characterize the grading within the workforce. Social hierarchies exist even within these categories. Skilled workers form a quantitatively thin stratum within the works.
Tradesmen working in the manufacturing workshops are the aristocrats among them. They enjoy the advantages of less strenuous work in quieter, cleaner surroundings and a better atmosphere, in addition to better wages and higher prestige.
As a rule, they work only during the day while the steel and rolling works teams have to toil in red heat, dust and noise, and cope with danger.
These socio-occupational disparities separate different worlds in the village as well as in the factory. The 34 candidates of the Socialist Party proposed for the local authority council between the wars included 23 Von Roll workers. 9 of them, mostly leading personalities from the Gerlafing Social Democratic party, came from the hot-working workshops.
On the other hand, the 14 ironworks employees, candidates on behalf of the Radical-democratic Party (9) and the Christian Democratic Party (5) included only one from the hot-working workshop, who was a smith.
Obviously, workers from the hot-working sections lean towards socialism. On the other hand, Gerlafing working aristocrats identify themselves rather with middle-class parties: 9 of the non-socialist candidates are turners, fitters, mechanics or electricians. Only 5 of the 23 socialdemocrat candidates work in these trades. Political contrasts are also expressed in the trade designations. Those who have no accepted trade title call themselves iron workers or, depending on political affilations, ironworks laborers. Both designations have the same meaning but the Radical-democratic Party and the Christian Democratic Party candidates invariably call themselves iron workers while the candidates of the Socialist Party call themselves strictly ironworks laborers.
Trade and social environment at work:
Disparities within the workforce do not end with these examples. The social environment in everyday work is totally different depending on the factory and the trade. Compared with smithwork, rolling and steelworks bays, the tidy workshops of the manufacturing factories look like living quarters
Individual contact between men and the workpiece or the machine prevails in manufacturing workshops.
Work may perhaps be split to a large degree into separate operations and be repetitive and monotonous, but the individual, the person in the workshop, is independent and responsible for his work.
In contrast, work in large bays is performed jointly by a team around a foreman. Thus, hierarchical grading dominates in the daily working life of the majority of workers, resulting to a lesser degree from the division of labor and the respective qualification levels than on the place within the working team. The need for discipline is important here in the first instance just as in the army. In fact, comparisons between realities at work and military service are made by the management again and again.