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Unions Forfeit My Sympathy

To say that my mother’s family was rabidly pro-union would be to demean the word “rabidly.” They were coal mining people from along the Kentucky-Tennessee state line. My grandmother lived in a company town- A town where the mine owners literally owned the town. They were partly paid in script that could be spent at the company store. If you displeased the boss, you weren’t just unemployed, you were homeless- And if the company was feeling malicious they might not let you spend whatever script you had left on supplies before you were exiled from your home and extended family.

I was raised on tales of waiting out mine disasters, including some that everyone knew were just a matter of time because the rock the coal seam was in was rotten, or only minimum bracing was used. I learned at an early age about the strike where the mine owners built towers just inside the gates. When the tarps on top were removed during a union rally, it was to expose machine guns. (Apparently Grandpa was in the middle of the crowd, talking to a friend and not paying much attention to what was going on when he suddenly noticed they were alone. Then he looked up and found out why.)

My father was briefly a shop steward where he worked because he felt it needed doing. Not being as dedicated as my mother’s side of the family he gladly let someone else have the job when someone who otherwise had the sense that God gave a goose indicated he would be willing to do it.

If I didn’t grow up singing “Joe Hill” it was because none of us could carry a tune in a bucket. Pinkertons weren’t the heroic cowboy detectives, they were out of town muscle brought in by the company, spies that infiltrated the groups trying to form a union, and often enough assassins. A great deal of this was brought to light during the La Follette Civil Liberties Committee Hearings. Still, they were things I read and tales told by the old folks until the day that I ran across a Pinkerton while out walking with my grandmother. Granny was one of those tiny indomitable women who you would fully expect to spit in the devil’s eye and tell him to go back home. But walking past a construction site where I just saw a rent-a-cop her eyes had found the familiar patch and badge. All at once she was an old woman, pale and shaking, whispering we should get away “before the Pinkerton notices us.”

In my turn I helped form an employee’s association where I worked, and when it was replaced by a union I became an enthusiastic supporter, one of those loons who actually spends his free time attending union meetings, and finding a quiet corner of the union office to read union published educational material on the history of my union and labor history in general. In 1980 we began an 8.5 month long strike that ultimately destroyed us, as well as the company. When the NLRB finally ruled  in 1988 (in a ruling that is still cited as a precedent about what does and does not constitute striker misconduct) the company was a failing shadow of itself, and we had scattered to the four winds. (I was on the other end of the country by then.  A few of us had died.)

All of this is by way of saying that I am not, by nature, inclined to be hostile to unions. I have found that unions are not an unmixed good. Many of the things that caused the formation of unions has been handled by health, safety, and whistle blower protection laws.  Hikes to the minimum wage have brought the minimum to more than double the wage we struck for.  The support of unions for the Democratic party I’ve seen as a natural outgrowth of the history of unions. (While Senator La Follette (ironically from Wisconsin) was a Republican, he was a progressive and thus more closely aligned with the modern Democrat party.) When people have pointed out selfishness and short-sightedness in a particular union, I’ve shrugged- After all, what human endeavor is free of these?

I might no longer be a fellow traveler, but unions were part of my history, and my family’s history. Until today, I wasn’t ashamed. Today I am ashamed of my past union ties.

Today someone from the Communications Workers of America was demonstrating outside of the building in DC that houses both FreedomWorks and Fox News in support of the public employee unions in Wisconsin attacked a young woman I know and like to think of as a friend, Tabitha Hale. Tabitha works at FreedomWorks, and with a number of other bloggers I was a guest at a party she hosted during CPAC at FreedomWorks.

Something broke inside me when I heard that Tabitha had been attacked. Unions have apparently decided that it’s OK to assault women in public. Call me a chauvinist if you must, but to me that is beyond the pale.

The video has been posted all over the net, but here it is if you haven’t seen it yet:

UPDATE: While I was composing this post Tabitha posted her own account of what happened on RedState.

Cross posted from Beregond’s Bar.

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