For research purposes I've been digging into a couple books about US labor in the 1970s. One thing that leaps out is how much of the disquiet – the grievances, the complaints, whatever you want to call it – among workers had to do with the incredible monotony and boredom of factory work. They had great deals, and seemed to know it, but the great victories of the labor movement in the 1950s created that "golden handcuff" dynamic where you hate the job but you really can't bring yourself to quit because it's just too lucrative. "Where else could I get paid nearly this well?" is a hard question to ignore.
There's a real tension, recognizing that the jobs are terrible but also that the deals (many) union workers had were sweet. That is highlighted all the more dramatically by the fact that the majority of those jobs are now gone, and I'm pretty sure every person who complained about the tedium of factory work would kill to have those jobs back now…or at least their kids and grandkids would kill to have jobs like that now, at compensation rates equivalent to what your average UAW assembly line person was getting back then.
God knows how much cultural product from the Seventies explores that theme – the man working the soulless factory job, dying on the inside, crushing his spirit. Movies, songs, books, you name it. Looking back on it I'm not sure how to feel. Having a job you dislike just seems like…having a job. As Carlin used to say, there's a club for people who hate their job; it's called everyone, and it meets daily at the bar.
I feel for their sense of how limiting, constricting, and repetitive their work was. I also get the sense that it never entered into the realm of possibility to many of them that such jobs could simply disappear. But, that's capitalism for you. People a generation later end up pining for the jobs the previous generation hated. Didn't we used to brag that each successive generation did better?