19 November, 2015

"The Four-Year War"; or the Whimpering Acquiescence of Organized Trade Labor *

The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor. -- Camus

Signs at every entrance to the UAW Local Hall instructed anyone driving a foreign car to park in the side lot, away from street view. Luckily,The Blue Burrito is a 95 Dodge Ram -- older than any other car in the parking lot and made, I was assured by the previous owner, my uncle, of American steel.**

I found a parking spot, finished my cigarillo, and focused on my purpose to quiet my nerves. I had fought the urge to take a drink all evening in order to quell the frenetic firing of every piston and synapses in my head.

It was a long shot, and I knew it.

My plan was to try and convince the Central Labor Council to work with me and organize a massive state-wide protest against Kentucky Governor-Elect Matt Bevin's campaign promise to push through Right-to-Work legislation, basically removing the one or two teeth labor unions have in the Commonwealth. As I see it, the windmills really are dragons, and need tilting.

Organized Trade Labor in the state had cast its lot with a milquetoast candidate in Jack Conway. Conway lost the election to a guy who campaigned at a cock fight, who threw temper tantrums at the state Democratic Headquarters, and who has consistently used a lot of flag waving and hyperbolic religiosity to avoid criticisms of his murky past. The Democratic Candidate barely ran a campaign, and relied on others -- like members of AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, the SEIU, and ASFCME -- to do the heavy lifting for him.***

I walked into the hall, preparing myself. I'd looked up the Constitution of the CLC, saw how the meetings were ran. I've been in enough meetings to know there's always the busy-ness part of  the meeting.

I wasn't sure what my contact there looked like, and things were about ready to begin, so I found a seat at one of the long tables-- strategically by the door.

The meeting commenced with a prayer and the pledge^, then rolled right into the wound licking. They'd made progress, real progress, in terms of their door knocking and phone calling -- though I don't recall anyone knocking on my door in the South End. People were thanked and comments were made about the Governor-Elect. People hide powerlessness with humor sometimes, and this meeting was no different.

A Democratic candidate who wants the District 46 seat -- the current seat warmer is retiring -- stood up and talked briefly about his pro-labor vita. He's going to fight the good fight and protect the interests of organized labor, by God, if they are kind enough to allow him the honor of being the Democratic candidate without a costly runoff campaign.

There I sat with what I expected to be the backbone of labor. There were Teamsters there, for fuck's sake. The leadership is as corrupt as hell, but still -- TEAMSTERS. They don't do much marching themselves, but they have resources to move literal mountains.

And yet there I sat, listening to the backbone of American labor bend. There were talks of elections. Of gearing up. Of golf scrambles. Of successes in getting TARC bus drivers reinstated through due process -- even as every person in there had to know their due process was on life support and an egg timer.

Then I was introduced and had my turn. My action plan, I decided, would simply scare them off. It required them to step up to the line -- to honestly step up to the goddamn line and put their boots into a direct action. No due process. No mealy-mouthing. No pandering. Direct Action. Instead, I changed my approach and offered something of a structure they could engage. I called it The Louisville Pushback. I said there was a website in the works, and the plan included both a candle light vigil the night of Bevin's closed inauguration and peaceful protests the day of. We need people, I reiterated. Lots of people. I pointed out that when Wisconsin tried to protest Scott Walker's Right-to-Work laws, it failed because there was no threat behind it. I told them protest without the threat and promise of a state-wide strike will not accomplish anything.

The audience was polite, but no one met my eye as I stepped down. The CLC president asked what the website address was, so I repeated what I planned for it to be.

As I was going back to my seat by the door, an older man stood up. He sat near the middle of the room. He pointed out that Andy Beshear had won the Attorney General race. Andy Beshear would was their guy, he said. Andy Beshear was going to stop Matt Bevin from hurting working people. Beshear would do the heavy lifting.

You know... because that sort of third party strategy worked so well for "their guy" Conway.

Subtext: he had no intention of putting his boots anywhere, and didn't think anyone else should either. "This is a four year war," he said. The phrase stuck with me. I wondered if he is thinking about how much damage an ambitious little fascist demagogue like Bevin can do in four years. I wondered then, and I wonder now, if it has occurred to any of those in attendance that simply based on attitude, the war is already lost.

I waited until the meeting adjourned to leave. I walked out alone, lit a cigarillo, and drove The Blue Burrito straight to the bar.

*Whenever I use a semi-colon and over-explanatory title, I think of my former American Lit professor, Layne Neeper --who appreciated the arcane style of my essay titles if only out irony and a wry sense of humor.
** "Parts made in America ... and assembled in Mexico." - My Uncle. Hence half the reason my truck is named The Blue Burrito. You can guess the other half.
*** Good thing they're used to heavy loads. The loads will probably get heavier very soon.
^ I will not say the Pledge of Allegiance until people decide to actually make it happen. But do take my hat off out of respect for my father and other veterans I have known.
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