By The Men's Editor
PAYING MY DUES
By Gary Sorkin
I belonged to a labor union for many years. I was what one might call not very involved. Once a month I'd write the check for the $65 dues and pay little or no attention to what was going on with my union brothers. I'd use their benefits of course, and I'd skim through the newsletter that they would send me. I'd look to see “who died,” “who retired.” I took it all matter of factly. Once a year the union election would come up. Guys would come around with cards, and pens, and other gizmos with their names on them, "Vote For Joe Smith – he cares.” I didn't.
I'd go down to the union hall on voting day and pull the lever for someone that I'd heard of, or someone who at least gave me the coolest pen. I did my union duty. I paid my union dues. I'm outta here.
Signs they are-a-changing
Then, one day it all changed. This was the early 1990's, maybe 1993 or so, and management had learned a brand new word: DOWNSIZING. They no longer fired workers, they didn't lay off workers, they DOWNSIZED them. It sounded so much more respectable.
A call to arms
Needless to say, the union did not take kindly to this new terminology and they rallied their forces – they made a call to arms. Weekly meetings now became mandatory. What to do? Fight them of course. We cannot have our members going jobless. This is WAR.
War it was. Management hired “replacement workers,” to show us that they don't have to give in to our demands, and in fact really didn't need many of us at all. We fought back. We picketed, we screamed obscenities, we threw rocks and more at those HATED replacement workers. Some of the membership wound up behind bars. There were casualties on both sides.
All eyes on me
At one of the more raucous meetings, and they were turning more raucous by the day, one of the officials stood at the podium and YELLED, “We need someone to write to the media and tell our side of the story.” All eyes fell on me.
“Hey you,” he pointed. “You're supposed to be some kind of fancy writer. We choose you.” But, but, but, no buts about it; I wrote to the media. The story, my words, made the news. I looked at it not as a harassed union man doing his part to fight the good battle. I looked at it as a writer would. I listened to the words, the punctuation, the drama, and the angst. Did I get the ARC just right?
Make my day
I was greeted by my “brother” members as somewhat of a hero. My piece made the news. I told our story. “Right on brothers. The hell with management.”
Now can I please stay out of this?
Well, the final act came and went and a peace treaty was signed. We had lost. It was never really much of a battle anyway. We stood no chance from day One. They paid their lawyers much more than we could afford to pay ours. Our chambers were empty. We began shooting blanks. The lay-offs, the firings, the DOWNSIZING, came with barely a whimper. We laid down our arms and many of us went home for good.
I left the union soon after all this happened. I moved in a different direction. One thing that I could always look back upon was that I paid my dues. My story was great theater.
I also got some cool pens out of it as well.
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