Time Clocks Gone Bananas
I captured this last year during one of several invited visits to document what used to be Sweden’s most famous shipbuilding company, Kockums. In the next couple of years, much of the old factory area will be demolished and eventually replaced by shiny new buildings with spaces designated for cafés, shops, condos, and corporations.
Time Clock Gone Bananas
What intrigued me with this particular scene was not just that all the punch cards next to the time clock were gone, but also how the clock itself seems to have made an attempt to leave the wall – but failed and was caught in some kind of suspended animation.
Back in 1988, I worked a summer in Göteborg’s commercial harbor as an unloader. I was only employed to work on the port’s weekly arriving banana boats – large ships from Panama that without exception were in terrible shape. Huge rust-buckets, really.
Roughly twenty of us unloaders would board the ship and start picking up boxes of unripe, green bananas from within the hatches on the very top deck. Early each morning as the shift started, the ship’s permanent crew, mostly from the Philippines, stood somewhere high above and looked unabashedly down on us, all the while smoking filterless cigarettes non-stop.
During my short stint, the union had negotiated so that we were only allowed to work in 20-minute increments and then had to rest for the next 20. It might be hard to believe, but we somehow learned to fall asleep on banana boxes during those short breaks and wake up just in time for our team to start unloading again. This gig was so incredibly regulated by the union, that the company who had hired us replaced every last unloader just a couple of years later with a fully automated unloading system.
Working the “banana boats” was popular among artists, musicians, and academics back then. It also provided some kind of street cred. Stonefunkers and members of Black Ingvars and the Soundtrack of our Lives were among my co-workers.
For some reason, I can remember that each unloader handled on average 2000 boxes a day. At 18kg/box, that meant we lifted about 36 tons of bananas per shift. It was hard work but still fairly well-paid and if we were done ahead of schedule, we still got paid for the full day.
When boxes of ripe bananas appeared on the conveyer belt, which could happen several times during a shift, we got to take them home with us. As much as I enjoyed eating bananas, I could never go through a whole box of Chiquita, Uncle Tuca or Del Monte and usually traded them for some groceries at the neighborhood’s local convenience store.
What has completely escaped me from that summer job was whether or not there was a time clock. Since everything was so regulated, I can only assume that there just had to be punch cards. If there wasn’t, I’ve still had other jobs where I had to punch in and out before and after a shift. But after 20 years of self-employment, the concept seems otherworldly. Archaic, even.