Notes of resistance in the Scottish Whisky Industry – 1st Post, Swallows in whisky distilleries

Sometimes the boredom of working in a manufacturing environment can be overwhelming. In a Scottish whisky distillery an operator notices that every time he looks at his watch, he often gets disappointed. He says: ‘it seems like it has been hours and only when I look at it [pointing to the watch in the distillery’s wall just over the control panel] I realise that I’m only 20 minutes older’. The tedium of working in a whisky distillery located deep in the Scottish countryside comes from the fully automated processes of whisky distilling and maturation. Far from that image people usually have of “12 skilled Scotsmen working in a magical and mysterious process that leads to a one of the kind product”, the process of whisky production is in fact monotonous and mind-numbing. A working day can be passed looking at huge steel containers, and controlling, every now and again, figures given by a computer. Very little skill is in fact required. 

Workers often find ways of distracting themselves from the everyday routine, almost as a way to escape from an environment that looks the same, day in and day out. From May onwards workers find enjoyment in bird watching. One of the operators explains with enthusiasm the writing on the steel doors, which says: ‘Swallows Left 23.9.14 Good Luck”. Swallows come every year from thousands of miles away to nest in this distillery. In the following 4 months operators will be more interested in the chicks – how they grow, who survives, who actually learns to fly – rather than in the “craft of Scotch whisky production”. Seeing the chicks flying away from the distillery by the end of summer is a moment of both sad and hope for those men who face the harsh and long-lasting winter in Scotland.

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Many of the previous posts in this blog have been addressing forms of collective resistance either through trade union or citizens’ activism. Nevertheless, workers’ resistance towards management and work itself can take various forms, particularly at a shop-floor level. A series of future posts that I intend to publish here will focus on exploring the various types of resistance found during my fieldwork across Scotland and England. These future posts can be read as an exercise of what actually encompasses resistance – which forms can take, how actually shapes work and its conditions, etc. – or simply an act of ‘distraction’ from your working lives. 


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# radek.polkowski@strath.ac.uk
17 March 2015 15:46
Very interesting post, Pedro, and looking forward for the upcoming ones. I think of interest to you might be a distillery called Edradour in mid Highlands which boasts to be "the last stronghold of handmade single malt whisky". It's a small, non automated whisky distillery where only 1-2 people work in the process and everything is supposedly being done like in the "good old days" :) i'm not an expert on the process and the industry but it might be interesting to you for comparative purposes.
# pedro.mendonca@strath.ac.uk
17 March 2015 17:36
It could be interesting for sure, but maybe more in the 'curiosity' side of things. I'm more looking how supply chain shapes the job quality of those working in the shop-floor, in the operative side of things. But anyway, this post, and the future ones, does not intend to address specifically such aspects.
# olena.fedyuk@strath.ac.uk
19 March 2015 11:42
Pedro, this post made me throw away my ambitions of a productive Thursday and instead, I subconsciously looked out of the window...probably looking for swallows, or the sight of other working humans in the windows opposite from mine... Thank you for this moment!

Here is a link to a talk given by a guy, who spent his whole dissertation research exploring the depths of Romanian/ post-socialist boredom. I personally was always fascinated with the topic of boredom and always wanted to do anthropology of boredom. So many things come out of pure boredom! I hope you will find the keys to uncover the turmoil of life-struggles the boredom conceals!

https://web.stanford.edu/dept/anthropology/cgi-bin/web/?q=system/files/bruce_oneill.pdf
# hsb07172
21 April 2015 17:04
a lovely post and the swallows are an evocative Gaelic image of freedom.
Paul Stewart

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