Thursday, June 21, 2012

Back To The Streets

Tomorrow is Friday.  When five o'clock comes around and you begin your weekend, remember that people died for that.

When you look in the break room and see the poster that lists your rights and the minimum wage, remember that people died for that.

When you look around and see no children working next to you, remember people died for that.

When you start to bitch about ridiculous safety regulations, remember people died for that.

When you bitch and moan about unions, those organizations that promote laziness and overpaying, that are racist and sexist and have limited vision, remember people died because they supported them.

I have mentioned that my maternal grandfather was a socialist.  One of my mother's earliest memories is being taken canvassing with her father for Norman Thomas for President.  That would have been 1928, right before her fourth birthday.  I should also mention that he was a union activist.  He went out on strike when strikers were beaten.  He tried to get people to join the machinist union when that meant he might end up in prison.  He harbored people on the run from the police and corporate goon squads, shuttling them along to other safe houses.

In 1929, like most industrial workers, my grandfather lost his job.  He found it nearly impossible to find regular work in the years before the PWA, WPA, and CCC because he was blackballed.  He was blackballed because he believed in the right of industrial workers to form unions.  He spent a large chunk on the 1930's shifting his family from place to place, using aliases, and not filing change-of-address forms and using false names in the phone book to stay a step ahead of creditors.

By the 1950's, he was head of the political action committee for the CIO for the state of Ohio.  When the AFL and CIO merged, his position became even more prominent; he shook hands with a young JFK after Kennedy gave a keynote address to a national AFL-CIO convention in DC in the late 1950's.  My grandfather told Kennedy he, Kennedy, would win Ohio because my grandfather would get members to the polls to vote for him.

I got to thinking about this, and much more, after I heard the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled in favor of free-riders.  Even if you aren't a union member, you benefit from union activity, from legislation unions support, from the work and sacrifice so many hundreds and thousands before have made not only to rein in corporate excess, but ensure safe working conditions, at reasonable hours, at a fair pay rate.  People who oppose unions are free to do so, but if they do so without realizing how much of our vaunted economic success in the 20th century was built on the graves of union activists from the previous fifty years, then you just might want to check out some of our labor history.

It's a rough time for organized labor, perhaps the roughest since Reagan disbanded PATCO in 1981.  I'm guessing that despite the tough talk and promises of action from existing union organizations, we really need to start all over again.  We need to get back to basics and fight, industry by industry, business by business, factory and supercenter by factory and supercenter, for worker's rights.  We need to remind people what it is union membership, union organization, and all the work and struggle and strikes and labor riots, have brought us.

I think it's time to hit the streets.  Not in the fantasy of a massive national work stoppage.  Just go back to the way unions and management and corporations used to do things. The workers in the streets, the factory thugs breaking heads, the police wading in with batons.  Because they did all that we have weekends and limited work hours and safe working conditions and the minimum wage and no child labor.

I think labor needs to hit the streets again, to remind people what's at stake.

Virtual Tin Cup

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