My Labor Roots

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

This is a little late for labor day, but what the hell.

My family has not been a member of union in three generations, not counting my kids, yet we remain pro-organized labor. What made my family pro-union and made us Democrats? My pro-labor heritage goes back to both my grandfathers.

A couple stories…

Sometime around the 1920’s my grandfather (He is Bob Sr. I am Bob III) moved from the thumb of Michigan down to Detroit with his brother. The plan was that Bob Sr. would work and put his brother through college and then his brother would reciprocate. Bob Sr. and his brother were Republicans, as were most of the people from the thumb, along with my family who still lives there.

My grandfather took a job on an assembly line at Dodge Brothers automotive when Dodge was a stand-alone company, and not yet unionized. Bob Sr. assembled some sort of complex part and was paid by the piece, instead of by the hour as is currently the norm. He must have been a pretty inventive guy, because he invented a tool that assisted his assembly of this part. Due to his tool, his output doubled and so did his pay. He started making real good money.

Before long Dodge Brothers management came through and handled out copies of my Grandfather’s tool to all the workers.  With output doubled, Dodge Brothers then cut the worker’s pay in half.

The story goes that Bob Sr. walked out that day.  He walked out a union man and waked out a pro-union Democrat. He later organized milk deliverymen in Detroit and was known to carry a small pro-union sign with a very thick sign post.

My maternal grandfather’s (Dillard) story is a little shorter. He was always a Republican, for no good reason. He was also a West Virginia coal miner, until he moved to Detroit before my mother was born. He later died of emphysema. His hero was John L. Lewis and supported the organization of coal miners.

Some say that those days are past and that labor laws now protect workers. Some say organized labor's days are over. Some even blame our economic woes on them.

I say unions are needed more, and needed the world over. The working person needs a voice more than ever to stand up against multinational corporations, right-wing media and corporatist economic polices espoused by politicians of both parties. When the people of all nations are free to unionize, only then will markets, and the workers of the world, be truly free.


Smitty 6:52 PM  

Bob, that's a great story. Thanks or would be really inspiring to have that kind of labor history in the family, and to truly understand the movement as a flesh-and-blood part of it rather than an outside skeptic "unions are their own worse enemy" type. Like I am guilty of... :(

Monk-in-Training 7:37 PM  

When my younger brother was dying of cancer, he dragged himself to work, and his union brothers made sure his work was done. They donated multiple sick and vacation days to him, and the company fought them EVERY SINGLE TIME, and the union had to threaten to strike to get the days transferred to my brother.

Because of this, his widow and daughter live in the house he bought and loved, and it would NOT be possible if the company had had their way.

I believe in unions!

steves 9:28 PM  

Despite a relatively conservative background, I am very pro-union. I was a union member in my first "real" job and even walked a picket line when we went on strike. BTW, striking in February in Michigan is not a good idea. Though I am no longer a union member, my wife is.

Like any organization, they are not perfect. I still see them filling a vital role. I have had some great bosses and have worked for some good companies, but I still see a fair amount of abuse and just downright shitty treatment by some. It is nice that workers in some places have some recourse when this happens and have a voice.

My grandfather had some interesting union stories. He was a mine supervisor back in the 30's and 40's in the UP. This was quite a period of unrest and there was all sorts of problems, including car bombings and some nasty strikes. This came to end during WWII when FDR jailed some of the strikers because iron ore was needed for the war effort. By the end of the war, the workers were enjoying good wages and benefits and their relationship with management was much improved.

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