Monthly Archives: January 2008

My First Union Story–And My Memory of 9/11/2001

Below is a short non-fiction article I did about a strike at a local papermill in the Summer of 2001. The short conversation/interview I had with the striking workers was on the morning of September the 11th, 2001, sometime between when the second tower was hit and when the first one came down. I had gone to class in the A.M. in shock and needing to be near other people, and after us students were send home by the college administration, I stopped to talk with the three fireman who were striking near the main entrance to the Texon papermill. I had been meaning to stop and talk to/interview these guys for about a week (I was then enrolled in several writing classes) but had been too shy. On the morning of September 11th, with the world upside-down, I decided “The hell with it, I’ll stop and see if these guys know what’s going on in NYC.”


Hawk-eye on Texon Strike

By Mike Farrar

Puffs of black smoke belched from the tallest of three factory smokestacks. The Old Salt shook his head and forced a laugh. “They’re going to mess up the boilers,” he said. “It’ll cost them an arm and a leg to fix.” The Hawk nodded, adding, “They’ve been trying to get the place running since Friday, but they don’t know what they’re doing.”

On Tuesday, September 4, 2001, three unionized firemen in the boiler room of the Texon Paper Company in Russell, MA went on Strike. Three days later replacement firemen were brought in to assume their duties. From day one, the picketing firemen watched and listened for signs of activity within the factory from a small encampment outside the main entrance of the paper company on Route 20. Their camp consisted of a tarp and pole tent, three folding camp chairs, a card table, an American flag, a small, battered AM/FM radio, and four paperboard signs with the Teamsters Local 404 logo and the message “Striking Workers.” With over 60 years of boiler experience between the three of them, they knew the sights, sounds and smells of a properly operating boiler. What they were seeing, hearing and smelling wasn’t it. Black smoke issued from the stack for about five minutes, then stopped.

The three firemen, nicknamed for this article “Old Salt,” “The Hawk,” and “Rookie,” (they adamantly declined to have their names in print) didn’t want to talk much about boilers that day. In fact, Rookie said almost nothing at all. The Hawk spoke gravely and matter-of-factly the few times he had something to say. Old Salt, who’d been on ships so long he had salt water in his blood, wouldn’t shut up. He talked about Vietnam (all three men were US Navy veterans), and of the sea and storms and the price of whores in Singapore.

Old Salt talked—and while he did The Hawk’s gaze fell upon him. And then upon Rookie. And upon each car that passed by on Route 20—during which the gaze was accompanied by a brisk wave and usually answered by a supportive toot of a car horn. But that gaze was directed on the smokestacks most of all.

With the Hawk’s sharp eyes were a lined face, a square jaw, broad shoulders and a straight back. He possessed rough, calloused, forever-creased hands earned with a lifetime of manual labor, and fingernails blackened by dirt, grease, soot, and whatever other filthiness resides in the depths of the boiler room. He looked, as corny as it sounds, like the stereotypical strong-back worker of the Industrial Revolution’s beginnings. Strong. Proud. Silent. Dependable. And like Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, he probably believed that “A man who can’t handle tools is not a man.”

Was this brooding handy-man an example of Susan Faludi’s Stiffed male, a victim of a social tragedy? Was he promised everything and given nothing? There’s no way to be sure after only a few hours of tense conversation. But his demands to his employers were clear: “I don’t want to work weekends for straight-time,” he said, alluding to management’s practice of forcing workers to work Saturdays and Sundays and then take hours and/or days off during the week so they won’t exceed forty hours and be paid overtime pay. “I’m tired of corporate greed.”

As he finished speaking, a low humming issued from the factory, and one of the two small smokestacks begin to emit a steady column of wispy, white smoke which drifted lazily up and away. “It took them long enough,” spat Old Salt. The Hawk merely shrugged and continued to stare at the rising smoke.

A few things jump out at me when I read the piece again, all these years later:

1. How big of a bull-shitter I was back then–I’ve never even read Death of a Salesman and I never finished Faludi’s Stiffed;

2. How I played a little fast-and-loose with the truth. I’m positive the fireman I dubbed “Old Salt” never told me about the price of whores in Singapore or any damn storms. I must’ve thought it sounded cool. We only talked Navy because I was wearing one of my USS Harry S. Truman t-shirts–the aircraft carrier I was on in the Navy–and, like all sailors, they had to rib me about how flat-top sailors were weenies and real sailors were the guys on destroyers–the “tin can” navy. I was smart enough not to tell them I was on a newly-commissioned ship that never deployed while I was on it and the most sea time I got was a month-and-a-half riding around the Atlantic and the Caribbean. I’m not sure if the bit with the smokestacks is 100% accurate either, but I remember smoke and the fireman remarking about the strike-breaking fireman f-ing up their boilers, so its probably close to what happened.

3. How out of it I was that day. The guys were quiet and brooding because they were trying to listen to the biggest, most horrible event of recent American history on their “battered” AM/FM radio–the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001. And they were staring off into space a lot because they were probably trying to keep pace with or digest the events unfolding.

All in all, I think 9/11 was TOO BIG for me to process. I tried to get perspective from my classmates, and when that failed I instead focused on those guys and their strike for as long as I could. After my talk with the firemen, I went home, and arrived in time to see both towers collapse. I don’t think I shut off the TV for the next 2 days. Days later when I wrote my draft, I didn’t even put 9/11 into it–it was still too much, too terrible, for me to write about.

As far as the strike is concerned, I’m fairly sure the firemen went back to work within a few weeks after 9/11. I was too lazy and self-absorbed to find out if Texon gave them a good deal, or if they stayed with the Teamsters. The Teamsters Local 404 is going strong, though, and their website is here.

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Filed under september 11 2001, strike, terrorist attack, texon, union, wtc

Union Rates Up Slighty in 2007

(h/t to UnionReview –via the laborstart news wire)

A Center for Economic and Policy Research study (full article here) says the percentage of unionized workers in the US ticked up slightly in 2007, from 12 to 12.1 percent, in addition of about 310,000 workers to the ranks of unions. The study was modest good news for unions, but decent gains of union workers in the health care industry were offset by significant losses in the manufacturing sector. Overall, the study is a mixed bag for unions, but any uptick in the number of union workers during the stridently anti-union Bush presidency is a victory for working people and an achievement union leadership can be proud of.

Union Rates Increase in 2007

January 25, 2008

By Ben Zipperer and John Schmitt

For the first time in the past quarter of a century, in 2007 U.S. unions increased their share of membership among workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) annual union membership report released today. Unions added about 310,000 members last year, raising the unionized share of the workforce to 12.1 percent from 12.0 percent in 2006.

The increase is small, and may well reflect statistical variation rather than an actual increase in the union membership share, but the uptick is striking because it is the first time since the BLS began collecting annual union membership rates in 1983 that the union share has increased.

. . .

In the private sector, which accounts for the bulk of employment in the economy, union membership gains varied by industry. Construction unions increased their membership faster than the rate of job growth in that industry, with membership jumping from 13.0 percent in 2006 to 13.9 percent in 2007. Membership in the private health and education sectors grew from 8.3 percent to 8.8 percent. Unions also made headway in the low-paying retail industry, increasing membership rates from 5.0 percent to 5.2 percent.

Manufacturing, however, continued to lose unionized jobs in 2007 faster than the sector’s overall decline in employment. Union membership in manufacturing fell to 11.3 percent in 2007 from 11.7 percent in 2006. Although manufacturing jobs were once accurately identified with unionized employment, manufacturing workers are now less likely to be in a union than is the average U.S. worker.

. . .

Although U.S. unions overall saw only a small increase in membership in 2007, this is the only year that unionization has risen in the past quarter of a century. Union membership has declined almost continuously, with occasional pauses, from 20.1 percent in 1983 to 12.1 percent this year. (For complete data from 1983 through 2006, see http://www.unionstats.com/.)

This long-term decline stands in remarkable contrast to worker desire for unionization. According to polls of non-managerial workers, about one-half want to be but are not union members.*

*See Richard B. Freeman, 2007, “Do Workers Still Want Unions? More Than Ever” (http://www.sharedprosperity.org/bp182/bp182.pdf), Economic Policy Institute.


Ben Zipperer is a doctoral candidate in economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. John Schmitt is a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.

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Filed under economy, labourstart, organized labor, union, unionreview

Edwards only Dem who can beat McCain in the general?

From Huffpo, by admittedly Edwards partisan Dave “Mudcat” Saunders:

As I watched news coverage of Monday night’s debate, the ever-escalating “I know you are, but what am I?” fight between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton suddenly struck a memory from 28 years back. The feud between Teddy Kennedy and Jimmy Carter rushed into my mind like a horrible memory of an old girlfriend. My recollection of their self-destructive hostilities reminded me how their battles went a long ways toward giving this nation Ronald Reagan.

. . .

It should be clear to anybody with over a 50 IQ that my boy John Edwards, with his combination of red state electoral experience and toughness, is the only candidate who can beat John McCain. Whether you believe polls or not, polls from CNN to Rasmussen say just that.

And it should be equally as clear to anybody with over a 25 IQ that Obama and Clinton are going to render each other totally unelectable against any Republican, especially John McCain, by the time we get to the convention.

All the Republicans have to be loving this. Because the Democrat they don’t want to face, John Edwards, is getting sandwiched between the coverage of this murderous cat fight between two so-called “historical” candidates who, when all is said and done, will be just that. HISTORY.

(Full post here.)

Saunders makes an interesting point, maybe the last debate will be the turning point for the Edwards campaign. Especially as the Obama/Clinton catfight makes its way around in the media “echo chamber”.

The more I hear Edwards debate, the better I like him. I especially like that the media has almost completely ignored him and written him off, and that he scares the shit out of the Washington D.C. establishment and their Corporate Masters.

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Filed under 2008 presidential election, barack obama, dave saunders, hillary clinton, john edwards, primary

Thom Hartmann: Recession??? More like a Depression

From the 1/23/08 Thom Hartmann Program on Air America Radio (video posted on GoLeft.tv):

The Thom Hartmann Program is heard nationwide on AAR stations (and streaming in AirAmerica.com) from noon to 3 PM EST. Required listening for progressives.

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Filed under 1929 great depression, depression, economics, George Bush, recession, thom hartmann

An Incredible Article about ‘Unions for Edwards’–written about 1 year too late

Found this incredible article on Huffpo the other day: The Glorious Future that American Unions Walked Away From, by Ian Welsh. Absolutely spot on analysis of why US unions should have supported Edwards, and how they are basically screwed because they didn’t. Several persons mentioned in the piece’s comments section that they were forwarding the piece to their union president. This is great info for them to get regardless of whether or not they’ve already endorsed Obama or Clinton.

From The Glorious Future that American Unions Walked Away From, by Ian Welsh:

With the right President, and the right NLRB, the union movement can have it’s renaissance, it’s 11th hour resurrection. Without it, unions may dwindle into the long, long night. And that wouldn’t just be a tragedy for union members: because of how unions raise the boats of all workers, the decline of unions would be a tragedy for America.

All of the Republican candidates would be awful for labor, and differ only by the degrees of the horror they would unleash.

Amongst the Democratic candidates it’s safe to say that Hilary Clinton, who has as her main advisor a union buster and whose husband did very little for unions, would be a largely status quo President. Her board would be decent, she’d be bad but not awful on trade, and she wouldn’t sink a lot of personal capital into union issues.

As with many things with Obama, it’s hard to determine how good or bad he’d be, but one has to have their doubts about a Democratic candidate who argued that union advertisements in Iowa were unacceptable, and who acted as if union money were the equivalent of corporate money. Certainly there are those who see unions and corporation as little different–but they aren’t friends of unions.

John Edwards has spent the last four years working with unions, walking their picket lines and making their cause his. He’s clearly the most pro-union of the three remaining candidates; his primary issue is economic justice and he believes that corporations have too much power. His campaign, from the very beginning, was predicated on union support.

But unions didn’t reciprocate.

Lists of major union endorsements make this clear. AFL-CIO unions predominantly endorsed Clinton, and in fact more major unions endorsed Clinton than anyone else, with Edwards coming in second in the endorsement stakes. Most recently Nevada’s largest union, the culinary union endorsed Obama and is working hard for him in that key swing state.

Now let’s imagine a world in which labor had taken a strong stand and endorsed the candidate who was most pro-labor, John Edwards. Edwards came in second in Iowa, behind Obama by 8%. It is hard to believe that if unions had come in, say 4 months ago, and used their ground machine (still, even today, probably the best organizing machine in the Democratic party) that they couldn’t have swung the election 8 points.

And here’s the thing–neither Clinton nor Obama, should they win now, will feel a massive debt to Labor. The endorsements were useful and appreciated, and they helped. But they weren’t desperately needed. The payback will be a slightly better NLRB, but not enough to save American labor.

But an Edwards presidency would owe everything to the unions, and John Edwards would know it. And he would have campaigned with an explicitly pro-union campaign–if he won the nomination, and later the presidency (don’t forget his electability numbers are far better than Clinton’s and as good or better than Obama’s), he would come into power with a pro-union public mandate.

I wish this piece had been written a year ago. And I wish organized labor wasn’t as swayed by the corporate media as it seems to be. The media has tried its damnedest to bury, then ignore, Edwards while simultaneously elevating Clinton and Obama, the money candidates. And their anti-Edwards campaign seems to be working.

Unions are still very beneficial to the american worker, but decades of anti-union administrations have cowed or crippled even the most powerful of them. 30 years of hostile Republican and Republican-lite (Bill Clinton) administrations have hamstrung unions and weakened collective bargaining. Look at the contract the auto workers at GM just had to accept. Screw the retirees with a union-managed health care that is sure to be underfunded by management. Screw new employees by creating a tiered system where all union workers aren’t equal–i.e. different pay scale and benefits (listen closely and you can almost hear Orwell’s pigs: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”).

The union I’m a member of, the APWU (American Postal Workers Union, under the larger umbrella of AFL-CIO), isn’t going to endorse a candidate in the primaries. The reason? Bill Burrus, the President, decided its better to sit on the fench and see which way the wind blows:

As a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Committee, as well as the federation’s Executive Board, I have participated in several discussions related to political endorsements. The AFL-CIO constitution requires a two-thirds majority to officially endorse a candidate, and at this time sufficient support has not been achieved for any candidate.

. . .

A candidate who supports fair trade as opposed to cheap labor and corporate profits often provides little more than good theater during the primary season. The mere fact that a candidate has a “good position” on the issue does not guarantee change. There are so many other factors that must be considered.

While it is important to support a candidate who supports policies embraced by workers, we hope the primary process will result in a progressive candidate who also has the best chance of succeeding in November. Regrettably, media coverage does not lend itself to thoroughly addressing the pertinent issues. Too often we are left simply asking what candidates favor and oppose. Many of the candidates will appeal to us on some of the issues important to working people, but being for something does not make it happen. John Kerry was opposed to NAFTA, but so what: How has that helped working people the past few years?

For about a minute I struggled to understand whether Burrus is right with his pragmatism, or whether Welsh’s “all in” for Edwards would’ve worked. I’m with Welsh–and Edwards. “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take thing anymore”. Time to go ALL IN. I hate that the APWU #1 guy is so disillusioned as to think a populist candidate is simply “good theater”. Burrus regrets endorsing John Kerry in 2004. So do I, Dean was a superior candidate to Kerry in every way, and unions should’ve had his back in the 2004 election.

Despite my anger and my assertions, uniting unions behind one candidate would be like helding the proverbial cats. But let’s run the “perfect world” scenario, where all the unions rally behind Edwards. Even in that perfect world, Burrus has an unhappy spin on what that would mean:

The president and the NEB do speak on behalf of the American Postal Workers Union: Consistent with the principles of the APWU constitution, we have the right and the responsibility to publicly express support or opposition in the political arena, on the basis of labor’s agenda.

Our expression is not intended to be the voice of each of the 280,000 APWU members, who are free as American citizens to exercise individual political rights. We merely fulfill the responsibility of our constitution:

“To engage in legislative, political education, civic, welfare and other activities which further, directly or indirectly, the joint interests of the membership of this Union in the improvement of general economic and social conditions in the United States of America.”

280,000 union members, 280,000 voices and views. In the building where I work, it becomes clear how true Burrus’ point that he speaks for the union as a whole, not the individual members. There’s a large number of Bush/Cheney bumper stickers on cars in the employee parking lot. The “water cooler” wars are in full effect–I should know, I’m the token “bleeding heart liberal” in my work area and I’m barraged by Limbaugh “logic” daily. I would say a good 60% of my co-workers are completely apolitical, 20% are wingnuts and 20% are liberal/progressive. Getting these folks to agree on anything is next to impossible.

I’m voting Edwards on Feb. 5, and I’m educating/cajoling all who’ll listen to me to do the same. I don’t believe its a wasted vote or a lost cause. I’m a longtime Red Sox fan. I never give up, no matter how long the odds, especially if the cause is just. I saw the hometown team come back to win the World Series after being down 3 games to none to the Yanks in 2004 and 3 games to 1 to Cleveland in 2007. If the Sox can win 2 World Series in 4 years after a 80+ year drought, than Edwards has a shot. Eventually the talking heads on the TV will insist Edwards can’t win and demand he drop out of the race one time too many and the underdog lovers will rally to his cause. At that moment, anything is possible–even a APWU endorsement.

Joe638NYC at Joe’s Union Review has another response to Ian Welsh’s piece here.
More of Joe638NYC’s posts at Union Review.

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Filed under 2008 presidential election, afl-cio, apwu, huffington post, ian welsh, john edwards, union, william burrus

Presidential Candidate Matching Quiz–Who’s your ideal candidate?

GotoQuiz has a Presidential Matching Quiz to find your ideal candidate. You answer about 20 questions running the gamut of political/environmental/social/economic issues, and how passionate you are about each one, and GotoQuiz finds you’re best fit, candidate-wise. According to them Mike Gravel is my best match. In a perfect world I’d vote for that cantankerous, crusading codger, with Kucinich as VP, but in the real world, 2008, I’m voting for John Edwards on Feb 5., and hopefully again in November. Take the quiz HERE and find your candidate.

My full results:

91% Mike Gravel (D)
90% Dennis Kucinich (D)
86% John Edwards (D)
81% Chris Dodd (D)
81% Barack Obama (D)
78% Joe Biden (D)
76% Hillary Clinton (D)
71% Bill Richardson (D)
33% Rudy Giuliani (R)
25% John McCain (R)
20% Ron Paul (R)
20% Tom Tancredo (R)
18% Mitt Romney (R)
18% Mike Huckabee (R)
9% Fred Thompson (R)

My Wife’s results:

92% Barack Obama (D)
91% John Edwards (D)
89% Hillary Clinton (D)
85% Chris Dodd (D)
81% Bill Richardson (D)
79% Joe Biden (D)
75% Mike Gravel (D)
75% Dennis Kucinich (D)
41% John McCain (R)
40% Rudy Giuliani (R)
33% Mitt Romney (R)
33% Tom Tancredo (R)
31% Mike Huckabee (R)
20% Fred Thompson (R)
19% Ron Paul (R)
[url=http://www.gotoquiz.com/candidates/2008-quiz.html]2008 Presidential Candidate Matching Quiz[/url]

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Filed under 2008 presidential election, gotoquiz, john edwards, presidential candidate matching quiz