Saturday, September 28, 2013

on strike!

It is a testament to the Republican success story that my jaw should drop this morning when reading in the local newspaper that a local union had gone on strike.

I grew up in an era and environment that remembered earlier bloody battles (Pullman strike et al.) workers fought in the face of an industrial base that had the cops and the military in its back pocket. The 40-hour work week, a minimum wage, and an acknowledgment that labor and management would bargain were some of the concessions won by that blood. When I was a kid, my mother had 78 rpm records of Pete Seeger and the Almanac Singers (labeled "socialist" and worse) pressing the union causes. (An example was "Talking Union.")

Well, time passed, some unions got pretty autocratic in their own right, and a little at a time workers were convinced that unions were a bad thing -- something that would clog the wheels of a prosperity of which they were the beneficiaries. The management touchstone "you're lucky to have a job and if you organize, the prosperity will be diminished if not erased" took hold until in 2010 only 11.4% of workers belonged to a union....

But the trickle-down prosperity alluded to by Republicans and other have's, gained a stronger and stronger foothold. Simultaneously, it became increasingly apparent that the ones who prospered were and are those whose prosperity is largely assured ... but of course needs to be increased.

That has been the widening consensus ... unions jeopardize prosperity (and hence jobs) and even those doing the work use the argument: Unions create a drag on prosperity -- we don't want a union. The Republicans have won and a rising tide of prosperity raises some boats ever higher than others.

And it was with this in mind that I was somehow flabbergasted to read that the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 98 had gone on strike. These are the guys and gals who run the heavy equipment necessary for road, bridge and other construction projects. The strike has some no-joke fallout because of various bridge and roadway projects underway in the western Massachusetts area where I live -- an area that might be too-generally described as simpering and vaguely effete with its convocations about climate change, peace, nuclear power plants and the like. The engineers, with their cranes, bulldozers and other heavy equipment, are meat-and-potato folks. There are about 100 of them.

The issues involved are whatever they are. For myself, I am trying to get my head around a strike in hard economic times and with a Republican/sharing-is-not-caring agenda in the social catbird seat. I am trying to get my head around refighting the battles that were fought so long ago. I am trying not to feel joy on the one hand and sorrow on the other: Occupy Wall Street had no real handles to grasp -- it was a good expression of widespread malaise and anger -- but this is concrete, a battle that may be won or lost, but in any event is worth fighting. That's the hot-damn part. The sorrow part are the varying kinds and amounts of blood that are bound to be spilled.

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