Hi there! I would like to take a minute to introduce myself. A few of you may know me as Something The Dog Said. For the last four years I have written about politics, the law and any other issue that came to my attention using that name and the premise that I was taking dictation from a talking dog. It was a fun literary conceit which some folks loved and some folks just as strongly hated. I always promised that if I got a Front Page gig I would lose the Dog shtick. Well that day has come.
Today is the start of my time as a Front Page writer here at the Seminal. I am completely and utterly flattered the editors asked me to do this. I will keep writing about the same issues I always have, rule of law, the Constitution, GLTB issues and rights, politics in general and anything else that catches my eye. I will be continuing my two series, the Weekly Torture Action Letter and First Amendment Friday’s. Beyond that I hope to add value on a regular basis at a great community blog.
Today is Labor Day. Hopefully you will be taking some time off and either are reading this after taking a break from yard work or better on Tuesday. Labor Day has always had a special place in my life. I am the Grandson and Nephew and Cousin of several life long UAW workers. Growing up in Michigan this is not an uncommon experience, but living here in the West, I find it stunning how people view unions and the Labor movement in general. I’d like to take a little time and give a bit of tribute to the Union members in my family.
Grandpa Mike was a lot of things; he was an Irish immigrant, he was an alcoholic, he was the father of 13 children, my Mom being the oldest. He worked in the Ford factories most of his adult life. He was a line worker when the work on the line was much harder, more physical and dirtier than it is today. He was a member of the UAW because he understood the power of the worker could only be exercised when it was exercised collectively. Being an UAW member meant he could have a chance to give his huge family a shot at a better life. I won’t sugar coat it, having 13 kids meant there was not a lot to go around in his family, but without bargaining power of the Union, it would have been far, far less. Grandpa Mike died 23 years ago. To this day the pension the Union negotiated for him helps to support Herself (that’s what we call the Matriarch of our sprawling Irish family). He gave a life of work to Ford Motor Company and for it his wife was taken care of when he died.
I had an Uncle named Otho. That’s right, Otho. He was a big Hillbilly from the coal mines of West Virginia, but when Grandma Georgia decided she did not want her boys going into the mines like their father and moved the family to Michigan, he went into the factory. Otho worked for GM, he worked for them until he could retire. Otho loved the factories. He loved the machines, he loved the people and he loved his Union. Otho was not what you would call the most liberal or enlightened guy in the world. To his dying day he could not understand why I would get spun up over his calling his black friends Niggers to their faces, but for all that he was a UAW man through and through. Like Grandpa Mike (the other side of my family) he understood that without Union representation people like him would not be treated with any kind of dignity. He would say of himself “I’m just a dumb hillbilly, but I can build some damn good cars”. The work was hard, there is no doubt. The thing is the reward was fair. It allowed that dumb hillbilly to own a home, to raise a family, to have the kind of things which were flatly impossible for him in West Virginia and he knew it.
I have an Uncle named Pat (big shock from an Irish family, eh?). He is a member of the Communication Workers of America. For 20 years he worked as an economist and strategist for them. Uncle Pat ran Dad’s 1974 primary run for Congress. We got beat, but that was only because Walter Ruther’s grandson got in the race (he got beat too, but he stole all our UAW votes, who is going to vote against the Great Man’s grandson?). Uncle Pat is what you would call a dyed in the wool Liberal. If I can be half the Liberal he is, I will be happy. He has consistently negotiated the best contracts he possibly can for the CWA. He retired because he felt he had been worn down. He told me the only issue he could work on was keeping the good health insurance package the union has negotiated for the last ten years. It killed him that he could not make any progress on other issues like time off or wages or education or pension because the costs of health care ate up all the room for those things. In the end he had to leave it to younger more hopeful negotiators.
Uncle Kenny worked at the Ford plant until the very day he died. He was a plan electrician and had fallen ten feet to a concrete floor about six months before he died. Unknown to him it damaged his heart. Five days after his mother had died; he fell down and did not get up ever again. He held on long enough to say good bye to his wife, then died. Kenny loved to fish and he loved his family. The contracts that his union negotiated allowed him to have a boat, a fishing cabin in Northern Michigan and send both his children to college, the first in that generation of his family. This would not have been possible without the UAW.
These are the Union members I have known. They all came from meager means and they all were able to have better lives and make sure their children had better lives because of the Organized Labor. This is the lesson I learned as a child, that Organized Labor is, in the main, a force for good. By allowing the workers to have a more equal say in the work conditions Labor Unions balance the power of capital.
For me, the big take away from the Framers is the conscious intent for their new nation to balance power. This is evident in the Constitution they wrote. Organized Labor takes the Framers intent to balance power and brings it to business. In this sense organizing is an inherently patriotic act, it keeps the Framers ideals alive on a daily basis.
This is why Labor Day is often a sad one for me. We have lost that understanding that the way to get fair treatment for ourselves is to demand it for all workers no matter what the work is. We, as individuals, can not stand up to the power of capital. We, as collective workers, are more than a match for the power of capital. We the People are always in power, as long as we stand together. This is the lesson of Organized Labor, the lesson of the Framers and the lesson of some of the men of my family. On this day, on Labor Day, we should remember this lesson and recommit to it! Tell your friends, your family and your elected officials that Labor built this nation, labor built the middle class and without the EFCA and the right to fairly organize we will lose what previous generations have built.
Happy Labor Day.
The floor is yours.