The first time I heard about sex, cuff links and unions, I didn’t believe a single one.
I dismissed sex as something the older boys made up. When I first saw my father put on a tuxedo, begging mother to help him snap those gadgets into the sleeve slits where buttons ought to be, I questioned whether grown-ups deserved the awesome reputation that swirled around them. And unions?
I was 27 – no longer a kid – in New York, up from the right-to-work South, and my job was telling the union engineer what to take out of the tape. I thought the only reason I was guiding him and he was doing the actual cutting was that he knew how to do it and I didn’t. One day my hand happened to touch the tape recorder.
“You’re not allowed to touch the tape recorder,” he said acidly. I didn’t believe him. Southerners sometimes horse around. I hugged the tape recorder as though it were a huge teddy bear, just to have some fun. It was as much fun as an Israeli pleasure yacht running aground in Saudi Arabia. He went berserk.
I was topped on this by Dave Bego, founder of the industrial cleaning company Executive Management Services, who successfully defied a bitter attempt at forced unionization by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Dave had once been hit with a grievance for picking up a piece of paper littering a company’s lawn – something nobody but a union worker was supposed to do!
A friend explained to me the origins of the AARP (American Association of Retired People). It all began with a valiant schoolteacher who couldn’t get health insurance. It was so touching I almost needed Kleenex to dab away the tears from the edges of my eyes. My friend, originally a big admirer of AARP, was Daniel Weber, founder of the new “anti-AARP”: the Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC), fighting to let American seniors know his organization can give them similar perks to those of the AARP without all that sclerotic liberalism he feels has discredited the AARP.
In college I was active in a national student organization and learned all the pro-labor songs. I can still sing, “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night” and “There Once Was a Union Maid.” My favorite was an Irish labor song, “Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill,” in which a premature explosion sent “Big Jim Goff” a mile into the air. Big Jim’s next paycheck was a dollar short. When he asked why, the foreman told him, “You were docked for the time you were up in the sky!”
What’s left of the American labor movement has blown itself more than a mile into the air, and the consequences figure to be much more dire than a dollar’s docking. No select committee of corporate bosses, old-time finks and assorted union-busters could possibly orchestrate the blustery destruction of labor’s place and face than the unions brought upon themselves in Wisconsin. And, by the way, they may have taken the Democratic Party down with them.
Angry mobs comparing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to Hitler, Mussolini and Mubarak; teachers calling in sick and demonstrating, using their students as clueless crowd-swellers; Wisconsin Senate Democrats hiding out in Illinois to prevent the vote that would have forced union members to pay a fraction of what those in private employment pay for medical insurance and retirement, and would have removed some of those unions’ collective bargaining right while leaving them the right to bargain over pay; the president leaping in to allege “union-busting” as though he were still organizing housing projects in Chicago – it gets better and better for Republicans and those who don’t like unions.
Were they hoping the tacky mob scenes would make them look like the courageous pro-democracy Egyptian marchers? Can’t they see that in economic times like right now, such behavior is more likely to make them come across as babies banging their spoons on their high chairs? How do they suppose their cries of “basic rights” come across to non-union workers who have to pay a lot more and earn a lot less and work longer and harder, and face uncontested layoffs? There is no “basic right” being smashed, or even touched, here.
And don’t tell me that was really Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, out there whipping up the crowds. I’m sure Hollywood sent a character-actor to imitate an out-of-control union leader bellowing that the governor “wanted their money to pay off his rich friends.” He brought to mind that Southern preacher whose secretary caught him writing himself a note in the margin of his sermon text that said, “Argument unsubstantiated here. Yell like hell!”
Meanwhile, Gov. Walker, maintaining the dignity of a Libyan camel in refusing to bow or even budge before the mob, looks like a vice president headed even higher.
Pundits as prestigious as Charles Krauthammer believe Obama may score a tactical victory here, but it won’t stop the union’s self-obliteration. It’s like pouring French perfume over a healthy skunk. You may momentarily improve the fragrance, but it’s a losing battle.