I’m not from a union family. My mother reluctantly paid dues to the Communication Workers of America out of a sense of obligation — “they get me my raises” — but never joined. My dad was a salesman. Labor Day was just a long weekend with a cookout.
My first real contact with organized labor was the printers’ union at The Columbus Dispatch, which even then was defanged, the linotype machines having been set aside some years earlier for electronic typesetters. I recall being baffled by their rules (non-union members were not to touch the columns of type being spit from the computer), their pecking order (shop steward? is this a shop?) and their rituals (the coffee-pot thing; some sort of Friday lucky-number drawing), and a little touched by their dignity. Even I, stupid as I was then, could tell that these guys’ time was over, that all their tetchiness about rules was a version of some dotty old lady putting on her white gloves for tea when the only one stopping by is her imaginary friend. Little by little they retired or moved to other jobs, and I imagine that entire shop doesn’t even exist anymore.
Organized labor has been in eclipse for some time now, and the forces of management have done an excellent job briefing the general public on all their sins — the featherbedding, the abuses, the corruption by organized crime, etc. More to the point, in a global market, it’s easy to find others willing to do a job for far less than your contract stipulates, and to find some apologist who will explain, “But $5 a day is good money in (fill in name of Third World country).”
Last year one of the TV stations sent its handsome anchor to China, to show the dinosaurs back home how they do it in the ascendant world power. To anyone with a lick of sense, it looked like a horror show: Workers who leave their homes and families for months at a time to relocate to their factories, where they’re housed in dorms and work the sort of hours that would appall even the cruelest robber baron. This was all reported enthusiastically, enough so that the handsome anchor’s pretty partner, in making chit-chat after the segment, had this to say of the American worker: “I don’t want to say lazy, but…”
I was taking a writing workshop a few months after this, and one of the other participants was a graduating law student preparing for the bar and a career in labor law. He said he and his friends were planning an expedition to a concert where the handsome anchor (he’s a musician, too) was performing, “to call him out.” That’s Detroit for ya. I don’t know if they ever did, but at Labor Day, it’s something to think about: That corrupt, lazy, featherbedding union force had its time in the sun, and that was in improving factory conditions, raising the hourly wage and generally making this country a place where you don’t have to live in a dormitory next to the factory to make a living. This is a good thing. Let’s not forget it.
We went to the Detroit Labor Day parade yesterday, hoping to catch a glimpse of Obama. That was a long-odds hope and it was borne out when we arrived to find Hart Plaza full and the crowd spilling out in three directions. But we got near a Jumbotron, only to discover there was no sound, and by then it felt like it was 99 degrees, so we booked. Turned out Obama declined to campaign and instead sang a few bars of “Chain of Fools” anyway, so there you are. My own video notebook is here, and shitty enough I decline to embed it.
I did get a T-shirt, though.
I took Richard Cohen off my bookmarks months ago, but every so often his broken clock tells the correct time. Like today.
I didn’t go to Slow Food Nation. Sounds like I missed some good meals, but some fairly awful public events.
Finally, I really don’t want this blog to become a gossip site regarding the GOP’s vice-presidential nominee. For one thing, everything we post here becomes stale in, like, 25 seconds; I fully expect the next bombshell to come out of St. Paul will be that some member of her family is running a medical-marijuana grow house during the 20-hour days, and further, that this is evidence of her strong family values. For another, to me, the only thing we really have a right to discuss as voters and decent people is the so-called vetting issue. How McCain managed to pick this crazy lady, with her possible background as a secessionist, never mind her colorful family, is the real issue here. All the rest is noise. I’m not going to police comments on this, but why don’t you read John Scalzi’s take on things, which basically tracks mine about 99.9 percent.
‘kay? ‘Kay. Have a good day.