Saturday, February 19, 2011

One For My Dad

It's been a weird week in Wisconsin. First, the governor announces a whole slew of revanchist anti-union legislation laughably gift wrapped as budget-saving measures. Hey, teachers can't expect to get their hands on those pension funds we got swindled out of by our Lehman Brothers buddies... so let's just blame union 'entitlements' instead.

Second, pro-union working people from Wisconsin and further afield descend on the capitol demanding that the governor stops being a d*ck.

Third, the Tea Party holds an anti-union rally in support of the governor because they're determined to convince the whole world that Americans are f*cknuts insane self-haters who only ever get off their fat asses to protest against themselves. Like... WTF 'baggers?

I've never understood why working class people (let's not use the modern misnomer "middle class") are generally so anti-union. Is it because we pay more attention to post-Reagan corporatist propaganda than we do to our own lives? Or is it symptomatic of some kind of self-hating psychosis buried deep in our collective unconscious? Who knows...

All I know is how can any working person not have love for unions? Who the hell else is in our corner? Obama went full centrist and now treats workers' rights as something sweaty and icky to be around. And Republicans long ago gave up even pretending to give a sh*t about anyone pulling in less than 7 digits a year. It's a seriously f*cked up situation: the rich have the US Chamber, two mainstream parties, most of the MSM, the Tea Party, lobbyists and more 'think tanks' than you could shake a stick at looking out for them. We have unions.

There once was a time when workers did 6-day weeks from dawn til dusk and were thrown into penury as soon as they got sick. This was a time when there was no minimum wage, no such thing as collective bargaining, unemployment insurance, sick pay or benefits of any kind... we just pulled on our caps and dungarees and got royally shafted every working day until we fell down dead on the job. Have we all forgotten this in the space of two or three generations? Why do so many of us seem so eager to turn back the clock?

A**holes like the Heritage Foundation are keen to point out how unions are "no longer necessary" or "good for America". And, sure, it makes sense for a bunch of Ayn-Rand-worshipping corporate fluffers to say that. For the Heritage Foundation, the word "union" really means Democratic party power. But when working people buy into anti-unionism and start parroting the line too, we sound like brain-damaged bikers arguing against helmets. Are we really this masochistically dumb?

As a kid, my dad seemed a little to the right of Mussolini to me politically and never an argument went unargued between the two of us. But that sure as hell didn't stop him from being a life-long union guy who made it all the way to regional rep by the time he retired. My dad's unionism was informed by his Christianity and by history – like how Luke 10:7 teaches the employer that the "laborer is worthy of his hire" and Ephesians 6:9 commands masters to deal fairly with servants – and by the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. I remember him teaching me the story as a kid and it's always stayed with me. I'll break it down:

Back in 18th century England, farm workers used to gather in the town square each morning to get picked by the landowners for a day's work. But the landowners, being good capitalists, only hired the guys who'd work for the least money. Eventually, this led to families going hungry because their men folk were low-balling each other so much. What to do?

The farm workers got together and held a meeting. They reached an agreement: They'd no longer underbid their neighbors for work, they'd stand together and each guy would demand the exact same fair day's pay for a day's work. And so they did. This first union didn't go down too well with the owners and most of the Tolpuddle Martyrs ended up in prison. But organized labor was born and soon working people all over Europe and America were standing together to demand fair treatment too.

I wonder how a regular working guy could not be inspired by that story. Have we cut loose from reality and become the kind of a**holes who'd no longer feel grateful to people who risked life and liberty to fight for our working conditions? It's like rich guys kicking the GOP to the curb. It makes no f*cking sense.

Sure, some of us get lucky. We get to feel secure in our jobs and bring home enough money to make our efforts feel worthwhile. But to argue that "unions are no longer necessary" is like arguing that doctors are no longer necessary just because we're not that sick right now. But just take a glance at the news, see what's going on with the corporations and the Tea Party know-nothings in Wisconsin... Get rid of unions and we'll be back to low-balling each other for day labor in town squares faster than you can say "child malnutrition".



  1. Dear Red, it's about education, it's about understanding these type of folks were FOR child labor... The actions of the folks with all the power led to actions by people standing together...the Molly McGuires, Triangle Fire, Matewan, MINEWORKERS, UAW and the auto industry, this all started to die w/ post WW2 congressioinal meddling w/ labor's rights...
    and with Right wingers watering down HISTORY courses in HS cause we can't have our actual history being taught....
    "you don't get me I'm part of the Union..."

  2. It's not just a problem in the US: I used to be a Union Shop Steward and I probably spent more time arguing with fellow workers to convince them of the benefits of unions than arguing with the management. And that was in Manchester, supposed hotbed of Labour radicalism and scene of the Peterloo Massacre. After a while, it just wears you down.


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