This is my repeating Labor Day item. One-third of the public (according to surveys) doesn’t know what day it is.
I am a life-long supporter of, believer in, student of and beneficiary of the American Labor Movement. I know writing is not really labor.
I am a beneficiary because my father, who became a Teamster after selling the family dairy and remained one for the rest of his life, was able, with just a high-school degree, to provide an upper-middle class life to our family of four which included regular vacations, a terrific pension and great medical and dental coverage. Take that, gig economy. For that matter, take that, non-union American journalism.
Alas, with the exception of three years in the Wire Service Guild at AP and UPI, and 11 years in the American Federation of Teachers as a teacher, I spent most of my working life without the protection and support of a union. The Oregon Journal, a Newhouse newspaper, was the stepchild of a bitter strike, so I worked with a staff full of scabs. Wonderful people, great journalists, but most with start dates during the strike that destroyed the paper’s independent existence.
CMP, where I spent 21 years, used to say it didn’t need a union because the company treated its employees fairly, and for the most part that was true as long as the founders were in charge—less so later.
I have been attributing the “never done any” quote to AFL-CIO leader George Meany for decades. I still contend he said it, even though the Internet disagrees. Turns out it is from G.B. Shaw’s Man and Superman.
Poet Octavius Robinson: “I believe in the dignity of labor.”
Chauffeur Enery Straker: “That's because you've never done any, Mr. Robinson.”
Some of my thoughts on labor and class.