Labor Day

It’s almost Labor Day and Facebook is blossoming with pro-union sentiment–about how important labor is and how we can support the rights of the workers and how valuable workers are and how it is imperative that workers control the means of production.

Er, not exactly.

Reagan broke the unions during his topsy-turvy tenure in the Oval Office but they were beginning to break long before that. I remember arguing with my dad when I was in high school. He was lamenting about how the Justice Department was always “going after” the president of the Teamsters, about how unfair it was. If you didn’t keep electing crooks as the union prez, they wouldn’t need to go after them, was my retort.

My dad was a Teamster, a loyal union man. He saw what the Teamsters did for him and his buddies, how the quality of their (and their families’) lives increased when they had the ability to bargain collectively.

He always felt that his dues were worth the price and never failed to “go out”, if the call came. There was an incident down on Truckers’ Lane that involved a goat and a picket sign and…I never did get that whole story.

Our lives changed dramatically when my dad became a union member. We went from dirt poor to not-but-so-poor and there was a sense of security that hadn’t been there before.

I wasn’t privy to my parents’ financial discussion, if they had them. But I knew there were differences: I got new shoes more often and there seemed to be more food in the house, even in the middle of the week. We got a dishwasher. The everyday part of growing up in a mightily dysfunctional household got somewhat better.

My dad being a Teamster did that for our family and no matter how corrupt or incompetent that 70’s-era leadership became, I honor the union for those changes.
And my father got a paid vacation on his birthday. For a man who quit school in the 9th grade because his housepainter-father died of lead poisoning, a man who fought in North Africa with the US Army in WWII and almost died a couple of times, being off work on his birthday was incomparably sweet.

As jobs are outsourced to faraway lands and the US economy is in freefall, we would do well to look at the history of our labor unions in this country and strive to find a balance that can work again. To empower unions to really make life better for workers, without empowering the leadership to brazen acts of fat-catitude. I dream of a day when a new and dynamic group of union leaders will rise up from the rank-and-file and know what unions can do and what they must do.

Now you know my secret–I really am a peasant. But not, I hope, an unenlightened one, to quote “the Wicker Man”.

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