My father, like most mortals, had his faults but working hard for a living was not one of them. I think of that first morning I woke up before he did and made my first pot of coffee – a surprise. I remember the look on his face, as he tasted the unadulterated liquid – the color of his skin – my father, the beautiful man. Only now can I see the struggles he must have endured – in silence I suppose for there was very little bitterness. There was the time he was ‘let go’ from a construction job, installing cabinets in late 1950’s California new ‘tract housing.’ There were large shipments of cabinets being stolen from the job site. It was here that I came face to face with the ugly stereotype linking all theft with people of my ethnic background. His friends from the job still came to see him, to tell him the thefts continued, and that they knew who was responsible. “Why don’t they tell your supervisor?” I asked. “Every man has to protect his own,” I was told. My father did found another job – reading schematic diagrams for a large cabinet manufacturer – “…a union job” he told me. This is the point, the very instant I can tell when our standard of living began to change. The house we bought was newer, larger and the neighborhood and schools much safer and close. My mother was able to quit her second job and be home in the evenings with her six children.
So, I owe a debt of gratitude to a Union and, I suspect, the majority of other Americans do also. Unions are responsible for raising the standard of living for thousands if not millions of families. There is no other body or organization that can hold to that claim. Even those administrators and middle managers who wave the bottom line in the faces of the rank and file have received the benefit of unionization – maybe not in the present but through past generations and by extension. And today, the flag-wavers of cutbacks throw up the salaries of union workers – and while not much real income has been gained in the downturn, those salaries still look good to the unemployed; a group pitted against its working brethren so the management ‘in charge’ can overhaul collective bargaining agreements. Some unions, like education, present likely targets because they represent those who have been perceived as powerless. It’s a common mistake, especially in this time of world-wide revolution when the human animal is pushed to its limit of dignity and ability to care for its own.
Truth and humanity will out because unions are woven into the fabric of our lives and remain defenders of the idea that a person can go to a job and work unafraid of the capriciousness of human nature. My dad became a proud strand in the cultural fabric of this country. I, too, proudly carry that strand forward.