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Review: Organiszing work at the sheds

They brought very audible voices and legible handwriting to organizing work at the sheds. Rupert Görtschacher reports on his time as an organizer at HHLA’s general cargo Shed 75.

 

Rupert Görtschacher had used a very large sheet of paper to make notes of the details for ten gangs - Gang Three, to ship crane 7, stacker 37, crane driver Meier and the other nine men, name by name. Several hundred details are noted on the sheet in his wonderfully clear handwriting. Punctually at 7 a.m. he appears with it on the speaker’s platform in Shed 75 on Kronprinzkai. In front of him stand the entire team, each one waiting to be called individually and told where he will be working on this shift.

over 100 docker Names on A 2 size

Rupert Görtschacher worked as Deputy Organizer at HHLA’s general cargo Shed 75 from 1972 until 1980. As he discusses this nowadays, his arms wide outstretched to demonstrate the dimensions of the paper of at least A2 size, smoothing out the phantom sheet, you might think that he had actually written out the plan again. He would first of all have sat poring over the shift plan, as well as the organization and wages cards of over 100 dockers, slamming down the day stamp and pushing the names to and fro on the sheet until everything fitted. “As an organizer you naturally needed to have everything in your head, but above all you needed loud, clear speech and neat handwriting, that was the most important of all,” explains Görtschacher.

 

five carbon copies tidily written by hand

He didn’t simply have to write out the plan so that he could tell the workers in the shed where, when and with which gang they would be spending the shift. When the work plan for the shift was fixed, Görtschacher had to write it out tidily all over again – with five carbon copies. One sheet was invariably followed by a sheet of carbon paper, another sheet, another carbon! All of which added up to a thick pile of paper. If the bottom copy was still to be readable, then you had to press down hard when writing. “That really messed up one’s handwriting,” recollects Görtschacher, rubbing the middle finger of his right hand, even today bearing a scar derived from a callus caused by too much pressing down hard. Yet at the time – back in the 1970s, before the extensive use of photocopying – the five carbon copies were absolutely essential. One went to the wages department at head office in St. Annen, the four others remained in the shed; these were intended for the shed manager, the shift foreman, cargo overseer and gang leader.

 

Transformation of work

Görtschacher, now 61, has worked in Organization (Waterside) at Container Terminal Burchardkai (CTB) since 1980. Shift plans for almost 600 port workers are compiled here. “Today the allocation plan is produced at the computer, printed out and displayed downstairs. Down there the workers simply look to see where they are working on the shift,” explains Görtschacher, who hails from Austria.

 

For organizers, the move from the shed to today’s container terminal has caused a marked transformation, not only of their work, but also of their status. “At the sheds, the organizers were lords over all they surveyed,” comments Görtschacher. They had it in their power to decide where somebody was allocated, and who might do the coveted overtime. “You could punish people by sending them off to the banana shed for three days. So the guys were very friendly towards the organizers,” he recalls – adding immediately that he never made use of this, since it was not in his nature to do so.