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Riding a Wildcat Down

By Arthur J Miller

Hand over hand, pulling myself up the derrick of a 90-foot wildcat oil rig. Each handhold sticks to the frozen ladder as the rig shakes to the wildcat beat of drilling. The East Texas winter wind cuts through you with a vengeance that has no mercy for any fool that crosses its path. Finally reaching the crown, I knock off the ice that has accumulated, only to hear the toolpusher yell out that the feed pump has gone down. Back down the frozen latter I go to prime the pump that only seems to go down when I'm up upon the cat's crown.

"Hey! Mister Pusherman, how does one take lunch on this rig?" "With one hand", he replies. 12 hours on, then 12 hours off, seven days a week, this wildcat slave worked. The cat don't stop for a damn thing; no holidays, no sick days, the wildcat never rests in its pursuit for that black gold.

And the wildcat slave only has time to eat, sleep, shit and work; ain't no time or energy for much else. All this so that you good folks can drive your nice four wheelers around. This ain't no life, the slave thinks, only a brutal means of survival.

I caught on to the wildcat in northern Mississippi after the cat hit an aquifer and the back-pressure came up the hole and killed three slaves. The bossman needing new replacement slaves and hired me on. We broke the cat down and hauled it off to East Texas. There we set the cat up to try again.

Most oil rigs have five stiffs per shift, a driller, two tongmen, one chainthrower and a derrick hand, who is also responsible for the pump. The man who runs the show is called the toolpusher. The gangs of roughnecks that work oil rigs don't think much of intellectual fantasies of dream worlds, for the real world shakes them to the bone. A real world that others care not to see or think about.

Have you ever, good folks, given one moment of thought to what lies behind those things you spend your cash on? The roughneck, the truck driver, the sailor of the merchant marine, the factory worker down on the speedup line, the farm worker out in the fields, the miner down in some deep dark hole, all the slaves that endure hardship so that you may consume. Do you ever see the blood; the pain and the sweat that is upon each thing you buy? Do you think about the sweatshop workers who make the clothes you wear? Or what of child labor? Do you think about the loss of their childhood when you buy the products they make? Do you hear the cries of Mother Earth when she is raped to support a lifestyle?

Many people just don't want to know about these things. Ignorance is bliss. Others just don't give a damn, no matter what you tell them. All they care about is what they have, to hell with everyone else. Some will respond by telling you how hard their life is. But in the reality of things, this system that makes so many suffer, is only able to do this because we allow it.

Every person plays a part in the system of exploitation. Guilt lies in apathy and not doing anything about it.

Do you really think you can escape the environmental disaster that this industrial system is creating by ignoring it? Do you realize that we humans are a part of the ecological system? And how we humans treat each other is a part of how we treat the environment. The system of exploitation treats people in the same way as it treats the rest of the ecological system.

The system likes to individualize our concerns so that we care only what happens to ourselves. What it does not want you to understand is that what happens to others and the rest of the ecological system has a direct effect on each of us. The decision on if we are willing pawns of the system, or if we are willing to do something about it, is ours alone to make. You can become a rebel, you can resist, you can fight back, you can join with others to set things right.

You may be thinking; "What diffidence can I make?" The answer to that is in the realization that the resistance to the system of exploitation is built one person at a time. You are either a part of the system, or a part of the resistance. There ain't no fence to sit on, there ain't no middle ground. So in understanding this, the time has come for you to ask yourself; "Which side are you on?"

Once we got the rig to East Texas, the bossman put us up in a hotel. We all thought that the company would be paying the hotel bill as they did in Mississippi. We got paid every two weeks on this job, and our payday came on the day after we arrived. In the next two weeks we set up the rig and began around the clock drilling.

Come payday the toolpusher told us that the hotel had our checks and that we had to pay up our hotel bill out of them. This was a major problem for many of us because, as our money ran low we charged our food on credit. This meant we had to pay both our food and hotel room bill at the same time. Most of us did not have enough money from our check to do this.

As our anger grew, out of the hotel managers office came the Sheriff and a number of his deputies. He told us that if we had a problem with this he had jail cells for us all. Then we were told to clear up our bills and to get the hell out of his county. Since this forced us all to 'quit', the bossman did not have to pay us off until the next payday, which was not until two weeks. But he said that he would advance us money out of that check to pay our bills if we agreed to leave town. Being a bit of a rebel worker, I was rather vocal about this arrangement. The porkers told me that if I did not shut my mouth, payup my bill and get the hell out of their county, that my family, who was with me, would join me in jail.

This whole scam was planned in advance by the company to save them money. In Mississippi the company was unable to get experienced roughnecks. So they had to bring them in from the outside and put them up in a hotel. In East Texas they had two weeks to find a completely new crew. Which they were able to do. Since we did not have a contract or any written agreement, there was nothing we could do about this.

After my bill was paid up, I loaded my family and our few belongings in to our old pickup truck and made our way down the highway. We were given an escort to the county line by one of the deputies. Once at the county line he pulled us over and he gave me a lecture about my big mouth and bad attitude. He then told us that if he ever saw us in his county again he would throw us in jail.

Behind everything you buy, there are stories about exploited workers. My story is but one among millions that could be told. The next time you pull up for a tank of gas, remember my story, and think about all the stories still untold, that went in to producing the fuel for your car. And if you are able to do this then you have taken a step in understanding the truth about the world we live in.