I believe in labor unions, even though I’m not a part of one. My heart swells when I pass a picket line, or when I see a bumper sticker for the AFL-CIO.
I believe they are the lifeblood to this country’s economy, and I believe the preservation of unions in this country is critical to maintaining a middle class, or saving the vestiges of one.
My father raised me to believe in unions. When I was no more than nine, I asked him what he was feverishly scribbling on his legal tablet one evening at the kitchen table. He explained in patient detail that he was preparing an outline for court the next day. He was representing a union of theatrical stagehands who were being treated unfairly by their employer.
It is not hard for a nine year-old to grasp the implications of long weeks spent in hot, often dangerous conditions, away from one’s family, for very little pay. It is not hard to draw pathos from a nine year-old over maltreatment from a proverbial bully.
It is easy, however, to convince a nine-year-old to be pro-union, to believe in the power of many voices united for one cause: a better workplace.
I remember that night when my father told me about labor unions, about how they began in America and about the coal workers and railroad workers and their strikes and successes. I think about that conversation often. I think how it expanded my otherwise Norman Rockwell worldview, how it helped me to consider the men and women who worked in conditions where they needed the protection of a union, conditions in which they would be fired on baseless grounds without a union.
I also think of that conversation as a reflection of what I know about my father and the legacy he is leaving for me and my children. My father believes in attending performances at theaters that welcome the stagehands’ union, and he is loathe to enter department stores which bar their employees from organizing unions. My father is no grassroots activist. He doesn’t even cut his own grass–but you can be sure he hires a reputable company to do so. He is a labor lawyer and he labors very hard in his practice. He has taught me that his day job should not contradict the life he leads outside of his office, or the life at his kitchen table.
And perhaps that is why he believes so strongly in labor unions, because they attest that one’s work is not mutually exclusive of one’s life.
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