Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Not Your Grandfathers Labor Movement

Grampa was born in 1911 and came of age during the rise of the labor movement. Throughout his life, and I mean all of his life, he was a dedicated Union Man.

Grampa was not just a member very early on; he served on the negotiating committee  of his local more years than not (no bull shit here, ok?); he served decades as local president; he organized locals where none existed; he held an elective office every year of his working life (from the time he was 18) until he retired at 65; he was always 'fightin' as they say.

My Grampa lived the ideals of 'Democratic Trade Unionism'. Lived it, Breathed it, Preached it...
Never thinking it was beneficial to the cause for the leadership to get stagnant, he believed in term limits: he'd step-down from leadership roles after two terms to sit a term out in a lesser role... cause it was never good for one man to become too self-important, forget who he was fighting for.
It defined him and motivated him. Total commitment to the cause...

Yet, Grampa was no fool.
As he explained to me once when I was in my 20's, working non-union, and dissing the Union-Side of things:

It's a lot more effective to say that "Joe needs better health care", "Joe needs more money to feed his babies", "Joe needs a pension plan"... etc... than it is to say 'Hey, I want more for me!'...

I always knew that whatever I got for 'Joe', I also got for myself. That's why I fought so hard for Joe.
It was all about 'Joe', always about 'Joe', never about me. (And he winked.)

I was living in one of Grampa's teaching moments. There were many of these throughout his years, most of which I was not capable of recognizing for several years afterwards.

Toward the end of his life, as we sat and talked union talk (by this time, I was working a union shop), I knew that he was coming, fixed Corned Beef n Cabbage, was slicing the beef when he muttered something like: 'things are different now' as to the union ideal...
This was near on a March 17th, St Patrick's Day... when corned beef mattered... twas a weekend to be sure... I was delivering as expected...

Unlike my corned beef.. organized Labor, it's substance and meaning, resembled very little of the righteous movement  Grampa had dedicated his life to.
He knew it.

I think if Grampa was allowed to live a little longer, he would have supported 'Right To Work' legislation.
He was one of the few who actively opposed the merger of AFL and CIO. He talked about it... didn't mind being seen as one on the 'outs'.

As he explained: with two organisations, there is competition. Who can deliver and who can't. Combined, strength becomes weakness. Maybe I was wrong, but I still see it.

(I saw a bit of Tsun Tzu in his reasoning. My Granpa was a brilliant, strategical motherfucker when allowed to be. I seen him 'take the fall' for a good greater than himself before. Fearless and shameless in his words.  Always righteous in his deeds. Never afraid to be the 'bad guy' to advance an idea. A born diplomat/lawyer if ever one was born.
If he had real opportunity in his youth, a chance for education beyond the 7th grade, he'd have been a great lawyer to the guilty.)

No lie. My Gramps really was that good.
He left behind a Labor movement that even he recognized was doomed to fail  based upon it's very success...
Because Labor left the factories and took up residence among the public supported white-collar, and the fight was over.


John said...

Well said... I think you are spot on. I've been thinking the some of the same things as I've watched the events in Wisconsin and Michigan.

Foxfier said...

My family was from very small areas that the unions imported themselves into and started throwing their weight around, so my view is rather different...but I must greatly admire your grandfather, both for his honor and his ability to look at his actions honestly.

As far as fighting for Joe goes, it reminds me of my husband's favorite applied tactics phrase: never do things for only ONE reason.

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