How Dare They (Think About a Working [Hu]Man You Know)

It all begins with the roots. Of course, we are all a product of some combination of our nurture and our nature.

My “nature”, or roots, are not far from working class. My nurture, is not. My father is a union man, a tradesman, an insulator. It is far from glamorous work. The pay and benefits are excellent, and after being in the trade since 18 years old, he was able to give me and my siblings a life off his back. My mother was fortunate to go to college, not the “Animal House” experience, but the more affordable, public transit commuter experience. Ultimately becoming a nurse after switching to it from studying to be a teacher.

Her hospital is non-union. Many nurses leave for the union hospitals. Many never come back. My mom though, has been there forever.

I cannot be anything other than a supporter of unionization.

What happened in the news recently, the bipartisan support for crushing the railway worker strike is sickening.

What happens in the comment sections of left-leaning subreddits, youtube videos, or Facebook posts are indicative of the spell that this nation is under.

People in this country will find a way to rationalize action against a group of people asking for something, whether it is something they objectively deserve or they think they deserve.

People in this country take others asking for things as a personal attack. In their sickened brains it becomes:

I’m not a railway worker. This won’t help me. It will HURT ME. If they get what they want, then there will be nothing for ME. They don’t deserve it because if anyone deserves the help, it’s ME. It doesn’t matter what they’re asking for, how dare they strike and sit around instead of working. HOW DARE THEY, while I am here working. HOW DARE THEY, while I am here raising children. HOW DARE THEY, think they can muscle US into submission for their demands. It is an ATTACK on the rest of us, who are too afraid to stick up for OURSELVES. HOW DARE THEY DO WHAT I CANNOT!

I live near a place that made labor history, within the last 15 years. The strike lasted a long time, long enough that the timeline is blurred in my mind. What I do remember, quite fondly so, is that during that summer I was holding the ladder for my green-carded Irish uncle while he painted a house that belonged to someone in my extended family, nearby the Tufts campus in Somerville.

It was hot, but nice weather, and being in an alleyway between two triple deckers provided decent shade, with the exception of the two hours or so where the sun was directly above our heads.

For that week, I woke up at 5:30 and hopped into his ‘00 Ford Ranger, decorated with soccer club stickers and Irish related stickers, and he drove us into the city to work.

My job was easy, I just held the ladder for him as he went high up the wall to paint. My other function was to operate the radio, specifically to change the channel when the music started to suck.

While eating lunch, the rock radio station DJ we were listening to provided updates about the current “Market Basket Strike” that was impacting the entire North Boston metro region.

If you don’t know, Market Basket is a supermarket chain in Massachusetts and parts of New Hampshire (I think). It is of quality, and of low price. I swear you cannot find cheaper food at any of their competitors. Believe you me, my parents found out about that and so didn’t the majority of shoppers in the area.

Theirs was a picket line you did not cross. Interestingly, they weren’t picketing for better pay, vacation days, or sick days. No, no – they were picketing on behalf of Arthur T. Demoulas, a.k.a. The Man of The People.

The employees loved this man, their CEO. Yes, that is correct. The workers striked on behalf of their CEO who was ousted by the board.

I cant remember the specific reason he had been ousted, but I do know that his family members made up the board of directors and wanted him out.

What do you think they wanted? For him to be investing in the next greatest supermarket innovation? No, supermarkets are not going to be innovated in a way that would benefit a localized chain. The “innovations” are already happening, cashiers and baggers replaced by robots…no, just kidding, they’re replaced by YOU, who will operate the cashier computer and check yourself out.

They wanted better profits, more profits. And the easiest way for these supermarkets, that are already so stripped bare in operating costs, is to look at all that money going into labor.

Ugh, labor costs. The bane of a business owner. The bane of a board of directors and investors in matured industries.

So when Artie T. was ousted, the workers striked and ultimately he ended up back in his job, much to the workers joy.

My uncle and I had brief discussions about unions following the radio broadcast. His green card status limited him in his employment, as well as his education status. He desired to be in a union, but declared it was probably too late now. His life was mired with trouble for the next several years, and had been for the years before.

Had he been given the opportunity to be a union man earlier in his life, he probably would’ve joined. But for an outsider, his foreign origins, it’s much too difficult. Its difficult enough with native origins. You gotta know a guy to break into a union job.

It’s become a bit of an exclusive club. A step-up from the working class, if you can get there. I think in history there were opportunities to get in without knowing anyone, but those days are few and have gone. And in those days equal rights for all may not have existed.

My days working with my uncle had ended, and the compensation I received even plagued my early teen brain with guilt. I had been paid $500 dollars. A hundred bucks a day. He is a fair man my uncle. As he could’ve shaved $300, even $400, off for himself and it would’ve served him better than it did me.

I had valued my labor at much lower than what I had received. It was a lot of money to me at the time, and I never made $500 bucks in a week again for 10 years. 40 hours at the grocery store never got me more than $350. Extra hours, speciality roles, it never made it enough.

I don’t hate work itself. I usually can find a connection with a coworker and make time enjoyable. I hate what comes with work, micro managing, passive aggressiveness, competition, mentally ill coworkers, and maltreatment.

I think all people can relate to this. Maybe some people don’t like work, but most of us who sit around for a week or two might start looking for something to occupy our time.

Look at the Amish. They build their little towns themselves. They nourish themselves and make their tools. There’s no Walmart in Amish-ville.

I’m not saying we should reject all technology, but I want to point out that their style of life works! Look at how long they’ve been around, just doing their thing, unbothered by the changes around them.

The rest of us here in the US, riding along this rollercoaster ride from hell, sacrificing this and that, plagued by illness of the mind and pains of the body, jerked left and right by politicians and the puppet masters in suits, and thinking this is the only way to go. This is the dream.

I don’t know what exactly I’m advocating for. I think we need to be going against the grain. The way things are, and the way they are heading, we can’t go back – we can’t go and dream about an Amish type life – no, there’s been far too many positives from industrial life. Medicines, technology, the internet and spread of information. These are not to be thrown away. That whole, baby and the bath water thing.

The message must be clarified. Workers, the people, must be number one. The 99% rap failed in 2011. Maybe they were right, maybe they were wrong about who owns the wealth. Maybe we should just start screaming our bloody heads off until someone listens.

How much do they need, the 1%. If everyone got cut a check that was enough, healthcare that was sufficient, and transport that is reliable, how much would they have? Would that burn everything to the ground? Is that just the “Aw, shucks” world we live in? That lower end people must be set to suffer so we can make money to “drive innovation”? (I hate that fucking phrase so much, and I heard it so much in college that it still inflames me when I hear it used).

I don’t believe it. I don’t believe that we can’t have that world. The message, the movement, the idea, transcends racial lines, genders, class. Everyone deserves a fair minimum. This country is too fat, too filled to the brim with money, for this to be untrue.

The first piece of advice to all workers, to all in the 99%. Live within your means. Credit and debt are part of the problem. Mortgages, car loans, student loans, medical bills – these are hard to get around. What I’m referring to are credit cards and “shiny new objects”. Like a second house you can’t reasonably afford, or a second car, or the new iPhone when you haven’t paid off the last one.

I realize this bit of financial education may come from a place of privilege. Well, not now, not to you, dear reader, do not ignore this advice or you will be bound to the bank that will graciously feed you and then feed off you for far longer than what lasts of the joy your new purchase brings you.

With this, and with proper budgeting of available funds/wages, you would be freer. Disembark from the materialist slave ship.

With a fair minimum, people may chase to catch up to the materialist slave ship. You cannot, or nothing will change for you.

It’s not going to happen all at once. This is a problem, but it is the reality. Think of the Walmart strike that popped up and was crushed. If every Walmart participated, they would have earned capitulations. Better lives for them. If Amazon strikes had succeeded, better lives for them.

So I’ve found my advocacy, dear reader. I will ask you, the next strike that pops up near you, please ask yourself, which side are you on?

Remember, they’ve killed us for asking for better conditions.

– D

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