I captured this inside the operator’s cabin of a vintage crane in the old Lenin Shipyard of Gdansk, Poland. The view was marvelous but being in the cabin also reminded me of an ancient moral qualm I feel a need to share here.
Once I’d reached the highest level of the enormous crane, I thought of what it must have been like back in the day when the sprawling shipyard was at its most active. I pondered if crane operators were figuratively and literally at the very top of the workforce food chain or hierarchy. Maybe they were.
On the way down the crane’s rusty, rickety stairwell, I remembered something from my younger years, somewhat related to what I had just experienced.
Just a couple of years after moving to Sweden in the late 1970s, I got a weekend job working at Beckmans, a small-ish hot dog and newspaper stand in a posh suburb of Göteborg. It was located adjacent to the government’s local television and radio station. So this is an era way before commercially funded broadcasts were allowed on the airways in Sweden. While not nearly as restrictive and oppressive as in Poland, there was no shortage of pretty hardcore socialism in Sweden back in those days.
The hot dog kiosk was an immensely popular pitstop, especially for folks on their way home from a night out. I mostly worked evenings and nights there, flipping burgers, grilling hot dogs, pouring milkshakes, and frying fries. Some of you might remember that I had a big ball of curly hair then and it was no easy task washing the smell of deep-fried food from it once I got home after an eight or ten-hour shift.
If memory serves me correctly, the owner, a dude with almost blinding white hair named Kent Beckman, had once been a crane operator at Götaverken-Arendal, one of the city’s biggest shipyards.
According to a rumor spread among us teens working at the kiosk back then, Kent had married a woman who came from “high society” in Göteborg, By tying the knot with her, he’d married into considerable wealth and climbed several rungs up the city’s social ladder. Which was something he made very little effort to conceal yet had no qualms at all about paying us a meager SEK 20 ($2) an hour – under the table no less – and keeping his hot dog stand’s minions (mostly teenagers) on a very short and tight leash. Working there was usually fun, but it could also be swelteringly hot and ridiculously intense when a steady stream, often hundreds of hungry, impatient customers, ordered food throughout an entire shift.
I am certainly not proud of the last part of this post. Still, since the statute of limitation has long passed, I will now publicly admit that it was just a few hours into my very first shift when several of my coworkers at Beckman’s confided in me that the entire workforce of burger flipping and hot dog grilling teens made sure they were reasonably compensated for Kent’s notoriously unabashed cheapness.
The parallel might be a bit stretched, but around the same time as I was working weekends at Beckman’s kiosk, the shipyard workers in Gdansk, Poland began their general strike. It was initiated on August 14, 1980, because the workers were exhausted from living under the weight of rigorously and brutally enforced restrictions on their civil rights and civil liberties. I am obviously not arguing that what we did was by any means righteous or justified. But, in our own way, we also felt a level of oppression and exploitation, financially speaking.
Dave, I feel much better now.
#göteborg #gdansk #hotdogstand #moralqualm #beckmans #gotaverkenarendal #kubrik #1980