The Depths of Silicon Valley
HOME About Us Archives Lists Links Subscribe Advertise Support

Silicon Valley promises it all: glimmer, gloss, and instant millions. While thousands of recent college graduates flock to the holy grail of high-tech jobs with stock options (and sometimes, free ice cream), community organizer Raj Jayadev took another path. Raj went into a printer assembly plant and brought back a powerful tale exploring the dark underbelly of Silicon Valley—and the possibility of organizing for justice.

At 5:30 a.m., not a lot of people were on the road. The highway was deceptive. It pointed to hills and valleys just a few miles ahead -- and gave you the false hope of being delivered to their beauty. Closer to downtown, a single-file strip of unmoving red lights led to what, cloaked by early morning darkness, easily could have been a residential street but instead was the way to Hewlett Packardís back property. The cars moved slowly, systematically pulling up next to a gate, where a little white booth housed an onsite security guard.

This elderly white man took his job extremely seriously. He was the first line of defense against intruders and uninvited guests. While 5:30 is an ungodly hour for anyone to be working, it seemed amazingly inappropriate for someone who looked over seventy. Yet he was fierce. If an automobile showed no intention of stopping, he would leap in front of the deviant—his catlike response free from any acknowledgement that he was flesh and bone facing varying tonnages of metal.

I entered Building 535 and made my way to the production area. A supervisor named Ana immediately handed me off to the line mentor, Raquel. They were both young Latinas. Ana didnít even look up from her desk, only saying after I introduced myself: "Take him to carry load."

Within two minutes, I was at work on the assembly line for eight bucks an hour with no benefits. I was given no building tour, no emergency exit demonstration, and none of the safety information and instructions the temporary agency, Manpower, had promised me during my training.

My team at carry load had to move, frantically, a pile of printers around, cut open and pile boxes, and pull printers from stacks and place them on the conveyer belt. The work required strong hands, quick feet, and a flexible back—a tremendous amount of twisting, bending, and reaching.

The machines were operated by surprisingly crude sources of power, such as loud gas pumps. Their hissing and bumping, amplified by the plantís vastness, had different rhythms in each of the four work lines. The energy almost overwhelmed the senses.

By break time, I was feeling the strain on my back, and I figured a year of this could cause some problems. Injured backs were commonplace, I found out; a study conducted by the company revealed that the plant had double the industry standard of reported injuries-mainly due to repetitive motion. I asked Fernando, a Latino man in his thirties, if he had medical insurance.


"Are there any permanent workers in the plant?"

Demonstrating with his eyes and body the completeness of his answer, Fernando declared: "Everyone here is a temp."

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

Next Page: You feel your humanity in your lower back