When I was growing up, my mother was a public school librarian, in the county next to ours, which meant she had to commute every day. One of her best friends and her best friend’s husband owned a restaurant almost halfway between Falmouth, Kentucky, and Cynthiana, Kentucky. Sometimes, after my mother had gotten her driver’s license later in life, she would stop and have coffee with her friend, Helen Button. Well, non-union in the 1960s, no one to defend her, someone told the Pendleton County School Board my mother was stopping at a beer joint every afternoon after school. She was having coffee with one of her best friends! And she had to go before that school board with no one to back her. No thanks to anyone else, she kept her job.
Around the same time, my father worked for the state highway department as an engineer. A new, Republican, governor was elected and since it was illegal for him to fire any state employees who might have worked against him (and I’m suspecting there were many), he instead had many, and I mean many, of the locals reassigned to offices hours away from their lifelong homes. My dad was sent, fortunately, to the state capitol, an hour or more away from home, where he simply got an apartment and stayed there during the week. Many of his friends quit the only jobs they had ever known instead of moving.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I worked for a non-union newspaper where a dear friend of mine, writing in his required local town column, published something the publisher did not like. The editor, the copy editors…they escaped unscathed. My friend was fired the next day. The information was not wrong. There was just no recourse.
The most powerful message about unions came when I had the opportunity to report on a trade mission from New Hampshire to Poland, in the ’80s, shortly after the fall of communism in that country and across the Soviet bloc.
That is what brought forth the power of the Gdansk Shipyard, Lech Wałęsa and the Solidarity Trade Union, today still Poland’s largest union.
The people of Poland risked their lives to protect their jobs and make their lives better.
We see that happening in Egypt and across the Mid East. And those fighting for their freedoms are reaching out to public employees in Wisconsin and across the country, in Solidarity.
There are millions of us who will not tolerate bullying and the ruination of all that labor has built in this country.