February 18, 2011

Unions in peril in Wisconsin

Filed under: Guest Comment — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:32 pm

Whether Obama realizes it or not, his political legacy will be at stake in Wisconsin next week because if a rookie Republican governor can cripple the union movement in his state, that will encourage other Republicans to make a similar effort to dismantle one of the last vestiges of the New Deal but if he manages to stop the Wisconsin facet of the continuing attack on his own political agenda that could provide him with a rallying cry for urging the Democrats to regain the political initiative in a way that might be compared to a key pass interception in a football game.

Sports announcers like to talk about the momentum in a football game and how one particular play in football can be (in retrospect) called pivotal. Since the President’s State of the Union Speech, the Republicans have continued their criticism of Obama’s health care bill, called attention in a negative fashion to the President’s response to the Crises in Egypt and will use any Republican success in Wisconsin as an indication that their dreams of completely dismantling the New Deal are attainable.

The fact that the Democratic strategy of hiding, which was also used by the Democrats in Texas some time ago, brings to mind the Schwarzenegger term “girly-men” isn’t very reassuring.

If a sports announcer were as continually biased as is the lineup of standup comedians at the entity called Faux News, the audience would feel duped. They would use the traditional lament: “Are you blind?” Conversely if things are not playing out as the Obama advisors had planned, then any harsh assessment would not be welcome in a group that craves enthusiastic liberal journalism. If the majority of Democrats prefer to avoid harsh analysis, perhaps future historians will see it as an attempt to avoid confronting reality and say that marked the point where the Party started to slip into dementia.

If Obama makes a speech and encourages the people of Wisconsin (and union member guests from other states?) to stand together and block the effort (a goal line defense for four consecutive downs?) future historians might well pick that as the moment when Obama “turned the game around” for the 2012 local, state, and national elections.

If the Republicans eventually “put points on the scoreboard” via the Wisconsin confrontation that will make Obama seem like a Democratic Party version of Vidkun Quisling or Marshal Philippe Pétain, which will delight the Republicans immensely.

Obama likes to portray himself as someone who goes the extra mile to extend the hand of bipartisan friendship to the Republicans. In war, executing civilians in retribution for the killing of troops is verboten. Lately Obama’s efforts to reach out to the Republicans has seemed like appeasement or perhaps a metaphorical attempt to negotiate the number of civilians who must be killed in retribution.

Political strategists think that in dire times, a strong candidate has the most voter appeal.

It makes things interesting if both candidates try to out-do each other on the macho appeal scale. (Did that bit of psychology work against Meg Witman?) How would a woman who shoots wolves from an airplane match up against a guy with (hypothetically) a PETA endorsement?

There is folk wisdom that advises the fastest and strongest don’t always win a competition but some smart-alecky guy added the codicil saying: “but that’s the way the smart betting usually goes.”

What would the next election be like if (hypothetically) next week Obama urges voters in Wisconsin to hold a “general strike” and additionally says that independent truckers should come to Madison and cause gridlock as a show of support?

What does it mean when a pro-union guy holding a baseball bat asks: “Which hand do you use when you urinate?” If they are really mean don’t they leave you with both hands in casts so that someone else would have to help you?

Pro-union people risked life and limb to get to their goal. Watching Obama piss away their efforts is a bit disappointing.

Back in the day, when a family member was killed in a mining accident, the company representatives who would leave the dead body on the front porch would often leave a note saying that their was a job opening and that the next oldest unemployed son should come to work the morning. It’s doubtful that Obama heard stories about that kind of exploitation when he was growing up. They just don’t mention things like that at Yale.

There is a story told by the people speaking at Horror Writers events about one of them, lady, who was traveling on a rural side road in Wisconsin (perhaps one of the major bridges had been washed out in a sever storm?) and got lost. She walked into a small general store and asked the man, who was busy stocking the shelves, for directions. A rather scary looking man turned around and advised her: “Run far, run fast.”

News from Wisconsin tends to have a difficult time getting onto the National News pages in newspapers published elsewhere, so we haven’t heard about what happened to Ed Gein’s farm after it was put on the real-estate market. Perhaps a New York Times reporter covering the union busing in Wisconsin next week, will try to impress his assignment editor by turning in an update on the fate of the Gein farm?

Didn’t one of the Boston based major league baseball teams move to Wisconsin about a half century ago?

On Thursday night, February 17, 2011, the ABC network evening news program used the plight of Wisconsin labor unions for its lead story.

If the events in Madison become the dominant story of the day (with the concomitant media circus presence), that will only increase the stakes for the workers and the President. Gee, if there’s a new chance to make the President seem weak and incompetent, won’t Rupert Murdock send his anchor man there for some “on the scene” broadcasts? They don’t do that do they? They just sit in New York City and do their impression of Jubba the Hut and send lesser personalities to do the remote reports.

Jimmy Hoffa has been quoted as saying: “I may have many faults, but being wrong ain’t one of them.”

Now the disk jockey will play Jerry Lee Lewis’s song “What made Milwaukee famous,” the Rolling (will their new tour ever get off the ground?) Stones’ “Rip this joint,” and Woodrow Guthrie’s “I’m stickin’ to the union.” We have to go check and see if Uncle Rushbo has to pay AFTRA dues. Have a “winner takes all” type week.

February 10, 2011

Don’t mess with the Teamsters!

Filed under: Guest Comment — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:28 pm

On Tuesday, after posting a column which ruminated about the possibility that a group of exploited writers might want to consider using the labor negotiating tactic known as a “strike,” we tuned in to hear one of the episodes of the Mike Malloy radio program which featured Brad Friedman (of the Brad Blog) as the substitute host. One of his callers, that night, was a trucker who lamented the fact that since the deregulation spawned by St. Ronald Reagan (the patron saint of the Reagan-Democrats) independent truck operators have been exploited by management by a lack of increases in the per-mile rate and a 10% reduction of their mileage figures. Brad mused aloud about a need for a work action in the Washington D. C. area.

On Wednesday night, Brad’s main hope was that maybe sympathetic truckers could help him publicize his effort to focus attention on the financial shenanigans of the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas because of the fact that, according to Brad, crimes were committed when Thomas submitted some required paper work that mistakenly indicated his wife didn’t earn any money for the work she provided for a partisan political organization. Brad’s main concern seemed to have morphed from “what can we do to help the drivers” to “they have a chance to focus America’s attention on a potential crime.”

Quite recently politicians in Europe have seen the extensive effect a truckers’ work action can have on a country’s day-to-day existence. The truckers crippled France for a short duration.

If Brad focuses America’s attention on the exploitation of the group that was once represented by one of the most powerful unions (arguably the most powerful union) in the United States, then, since the teamsters were not politically naïve, they would return the favor and make the Thomas affair something that even the hens in the Fox house could not ignore.

Truckers seem to be rather conservative patriotic individuals who might not care to be involved in spreading an allegation about an American icon. Didn’t the Teamsters Union once trade a crucial endorsement for Richard Nixon for a legislative political favor in return?

The story that Jimmy Hoffa is buried in the end zone of Giants Stadium is an urban legend. His body was, a little birdie told us, disposed of via an industrial strength garbage disposal grinder at a (union of course) meat butchering plant. As far as the question of who ordered the hit, don’t look at this columnist. We ain’t gonna go there. If your curiosity about that question is insatiable, we recommend that you read pages 61 to 71 of Steven Brill’s 1978 book “The Teamsters” (Simon and Schuster hardback).

When this columnist was a member of the Teamsters’ local 229 (Scranton Pa.), there was a young lady, of the ordinary size and weight variety, in the office (no – the one where we worked not the TV series) who could beat all the guys at arm wrestling. At that time, this writer was working out regularly with weights and we never could figure out how the heck that happened.

The firm had previously provided office space in the Secaucus (gees, I can still spell it right on the first try) terminal for the two union guys known as “the two Tonys.” (One was the Tony Pro and we can’t remember the other’s name.)

Since the company had been owned by the man who founded the American Trucking Association and since his grandson was one of the fellows who became a member of the Humphrey for President posse in 1968 (has anything ever happened in any other year?), the level of political sophistication in the Scranton office was notably high.

[Did Humphrey really trade a promise that one particular airline would get the rights to fly to and from Hawaii in return for a $300,000 campaign contribution? How the heck is this columnist supposed to fact check a rumor that is more than forty years old? Everybody we could ask is dead.]

Wasn’t there one particular group of steel hauling teamsters who cause considerable distress if people tried to foil their strikes?

Columnist Victor Reisel found out the hard way that labor issues were a very vitriolic topic.

Back in the day, the teamsters were not a group that permitted their members to be exploited. If the caller on Tuesday reported his plight accurately, it would seem that the times they have changed considerably. Much to the delight of the trucking industry management team.

It seems quite reasonable to expect that if liberals help the truck drivers with a problem that has existed for almost thirty years, then those folks will owe some favor in return. If not, the Republican philosophy of “divide and conquer” has worked again.

In the last decade, this columnist stumbled across information online that indicated that the Trucking Music Hall of Fame is contained inside a trailer that moves about the country.

Brad’s engineer, Tony, has used C. W. McCall’s hit song “Convoy” to conjure up the trucking image.

Our favorite German musical group is named “Truck Stop” and we do know a thing or two about songs that truckers play. Our list of items, which we hope are featured in the Trucking Music Hall of Fame (hope Tony reads this), would (in alphabetical order) include:

Convoy but not Convoy goes to Europe
Eastbound and Down (from Smokey and the Bandit)
Forty Days on the Road
Forty Thousand lbs. of bananas (which is based on a true incident in Scranton)
Giddyup Go
Gimme Forty Acres (and I’ll turn this rig around)
I’ve been everywhere (by Johnny Cash)
Phantom 309 (We’d call that the Best trucking song of all time)
Teddybear and Teddybear with German lyrics version
White line fever
Wolf Creek Pass.
And the bonus track of John Wayne’s “Pledge of Allegiance”?

Teamster strikes are powerful medicine. Steven Brill (Ibid page 380) wrote: “His (Einar Mohn) problem with Nixon, according to Gibbons and another (union) vice-president who was there, was that the White House’s proposed legislation to prevent strikes in the transportation industry would, he thought, severely threaten the union.” In a footnote (Ibid page 381), Brill drolly notes: “The Nixon bill was suddenly withdrawn, much to the embarrassment of the Republicans in Congress who had sponsored it for the President and were not informed beforehand of the sudden policy reversal.”

Now our disk jockey will play a Truck Stop album. We gotta go check out the rumor that Che Guevarra was put in the witness protection program and was seen recently in Cairo.” Have a “you wanna screw that knob back on there, Earl” type week.

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