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Blue Stripes

September 2012

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Blue Stripes

Union Girl In A Capitalist World

I grew up with the tales of unions. My granddads were unionized - one a merchant seaman, the other a postman (yes, that's what they were - they both retired before much progress had been made in career nomenclature) - and I grew up with their stories of how each had served time as stewards of their respective locals. Of the strikebreakers, "the plod" (the police, as one granddad rendered it), the bosses' retaliation against the stewards and their families, all the dirty tricks and outright illegalities the rich would use to keep the worker down: separated, isolated, vulnerable.

It's no coincidence that I grew up to dally with the Communist Party of Canada (carried a card for a bit), or that I've always been more socialist than most people I knew. It's not coincidence that I learned German (the language of Marx, and of Lenin's exile), and Russian (the language of international communism), and French (les communards, the internationale, allons enfants de la patrie...). And I say this, though I've been a member of three unions only in my life, none for longer than six months, and two of which were instrumental in getting me fired (I was temping at all three closed shops, where a weird setup happened: I had to pay dues to the union, but the union didn't consider me "part" of it in terms of my being able to apply for jobs as an inside worker, or to continue in a job that hadn't been posted and didn't have a job description while permanent workers were being laid off). Because in each case, the shops those unions represented are all still union shops, and the workers have more job security (in this appalling economy), more benefits, better pensions, than non-unionized similar workers. That's a lot of lives given a stress-reducing level of security, a lot of potential children growing up in homes that don't live hand-to-mouth, or cheque-to-cheque, a lot fewer families (remember families? those things the GOP pretend to support so much? don't unionized public workers - like, say, firefighters and police officers? - don't they have families too? Or are only management families to be supported?) torn apart by stressors from outside.

That's a better society, and I believe in that. So yes, I'm a union girl in a capitalist world. And if the time ever comes when my own little business comes to the point of having employees, and if those employees want to join a union, I will encourage them to do so, because unions? They're just about the only legal way/place for the working class to unite and feel the power. And this Walker fellow in Wisconsin, he's transparently aiming squarely at destroying the unions, the last and only legal way for the working class to feel strong together, since the HUAC fiasco.

This is my usual long-winded way of working around to saying Go Wisconsin labo(u)r! Up the Unions! Out with the Downpressor Man! Bread and roses to the workers and their supporters in Wisconsin, and those in other states demonstrating.

Bella ciao!


My grandads were both colliers and union activists blackballed after the '26 strike by the owners which is why I came to be born in Kent (the new pits opening up he weren't too fussy which is why Kent was always so militant).

I was a union rep myself in my teaching days.

'Union miners, stand together
Do not heed the owners' tale
Keep your hand upon your wages
And your eyes upon the scale'
Solidarity, sister.

Solidarnosc, even. :)
I was at the DC Solidarity rally for WI when a couple of Freedom Works guys came out. I did something I've never done. One of them IDed as Jewish (to say he wasn't racist) I called him a bad Jew. My mother the rabbi agreed with me.
Your mom's a rabbi? That's awesome! I nearly converted some years ago, for love. Took courses for six months, even learned some Hebrew.

I might try to make it out to one of the support demos this weekend, here in Ontario. I just wish I could afford to take a week off and head for WI just to feel the sweet sweet energy of workers together.
Secular Humanistic Rabbi. She's been Jewish clergy as long as I can remember (first graduate of the International Institute (the Jewish clergy for the Secular movement))but only formally got smicha (the poof you're a rabbit has to come from another rabbi) about ten years ago.
Okay, that's even cooler. Your mom wins the Intertoobz today. :)
I'll go with that. My mother rocks a lot.
I like the idea of clergy for the secular which is probably why I fetched up converting to Quakerism, which has a priesthood of all believers and a welcome for anyone of any faith or background. Indeed, Harvey Gilman the Quaker thinker and poet, is Jewish and I have Latvian Jewish ancestry myself. :o)
Heh - I'd never thought of Quakers as secular. I tend to think of them as liberal Christians - sort of in the same camp as UU folk - still a belief in a god, usually a belief in Jesus.
UK Quakers (we're what they call 'unstructured' Quakers- no liturgical worship-just silent meditation) can be Christocentric or universalist as it's easier to be inclusive that way :o)
I grew up with a union, as well. My dad's an auto worker, and I'd hate to think of the position my family would be in if it weren't for the CAW. My mom's disabled; without my dad's health benefits, her prescription drugs would cost more each month than their mortgage.

Though I don't know if it was intentional, my dad's union involvement was my first lesson in politics, as well. He ran as the union rep for his part of the factory, and I designed his campaign posters. He told me what a run-off was. I got better at the campaign posters as I got older, and convinced him that he needed to put his picture on the posters, too, for the benefit of people who didn't know him by name.

My dad's still working, still a union rep, and his factory is now doing so well they were able to recall all their laid-off workers, and offered part-time jobs to students willing to work nights to take the load off the regular employees.

I'm a union girl, too, and while I can't be in Wisconsin to protest, I'm with them in spirit.
One of my paternal great-grandfathers, who immigrated from The Netherlands in the late 1890s, helped to organize the diamond workers in New York City at the turn of last century and was president of the same union for many years until his death in 1931. I didn't find this out until after my grandmother died in 1986. She tried very hard to assimilate, and from what I discovered from cousins on that side of the family, she may have been ashamed to admit that her father was a union leader.