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  • Reverend James Squire

Unions




I have interest and direct experience to address the focus on unions now by the Republican Party. Kyle Sammin wrote an article in the December 12 edition of the Inquirer titled “Unions have been loyal to Democrats. How is that working out?” I have noticed since the midterms that the Republican Party seems to have shifted their focus squarely on the working man and woman. They learned something the hard way during the midterms. They realized that Trump’s base is not necessarily people in the traditional working class. Trump’s base was more interested in him cleaning up the swamp and showing those politicians in Washington how to do things right. The Republican Party is interested now in growing their tent size because Trump’s rhetoric hasn’t stood the test of time. He is yesterday’s news.


They have changed their political stance to being Democrats Lite. Working class people are interested in someone hearing their voices which contain a number of themes such as help me achieve a good standard of living and life style. They focused as well on seeing justice being part of the fabric of everyday life. When I realized that Josh Hawley voted against the Biden’s administration to force the railroad union to get back to work, I needed no more input to support seeing this reversal than the words of Hawley himself: “The GOP must offer good jobs and good lives, not just higher stock prices to be exploited or engineered away.” That is straight out of the Democrats playbook and a quick reversal for Hawley.


I am a bit biased but I don’t think that this is a change of heart for Hawley and his colleagues as much as a realization of what it takes to win an election, and what better way to start now with the winning process of the Democrats. For the most part during the Biden Administration, Republicans have had no policies except to point out that there may be something in Hunter Biden’s laptop that will expose the Biden family. They came into the Biden years with no policy statement and have done nothing to reflect that the border challenges and increased inflation are not new issues.


Now to get the working-class vote. The politicians have to know what will work with the working class by living it. They are dependent on the served to finance their campaigns and too few Republicans have experienced the working-class life as the underserved. Hence, my perspective.


I was the son of a union worker. Without that union, we would not have been able to literally put food on the table. I worked in a mill that had a strong union. Other mills that I worked in didn’t permit unions in so I could see the difference immediately. I saw unions in action in the teacher’s union in Philly but was not required to join as a long-term substitute. They were not interested in the students as much as they were about getting a raise.


While working in a steel mill as a college kid, it was mandatory to join the union. I was achieving real security with the high wages that I was earning at the coke plant which changes coal to coke and the cold rolling mill which is where you band coils of steel and earned something called an hour per hour bonus which meant that if you turned out more finished steel, you received a hefty bonus. Workers worked extremely hard to get that bonus every day. It had nothing to do with helping the steel mill. In fact, when I and others in college arrived, they first took us behind the men’s room and threatened us with our lives if we slowed them down because “this job was to feed their families and not for some kid to go to college.” Education had no priority with working class people then but that importance of an education has grown since those days. It could also be learning a trade.


I didn’t think for one moment what it was like to be management or the owner of the mill. My needs came first. The working conditions in the mill were notorious. They were something right out of Sinclair Lewis’ book, The Jungle, where he wrote an expose of work in the meat packing industry. Conditions working in the heat of the mill coupled with the ovens that were necessary to change coal to coke were beyond terrible. There was also the heat of summer. The veteran workers would take out a lottery to see which one of the college kids would collapse or leave first. I had a fleeting thought. Does the owner know how bad this is? My brother who went on to become a Harvard fellow had a tougher job as a slagger in the open hearth.


Fast forward years to when I was asked to bless the marriage of a terrific couple with whom I am still friends. You can’t make the following up. At the dinner after the ceremony, I sat next to the owner of the steel mill where I worked. It took a while for me to figure out who he was after our initial introduction. He was bitter as the demands of the union closed the mill. A high school classmate told me the gates into the mill were closed and locked. The workers stood outside in disbelief. They thought that their lives would go on in the same manner forever.


The owner of the mill went on and on about how terrible the unions were. They did, as has happened in so many industries, tipped the scale over into pure concern for wages. They could care less what the challenges were for the owner. When it was my turn, he was shocked that I went from his mill to where I was that day. ! told him the reality of the conditions in his mill leaving nothing out. He understood much more of what it was like to be the worker. We each learned a lot about stereotypes of owner and worker forging a respect for each other. After dinner we shook hands and parted as friends.


Until Democrats and Republicans wake up from the partisan divide and do something for the people, not much will change, but they need to do it for the right reasons. A case in point was to use Herschel Walker to win because he was a Republican was obvious. The Democrats have poured money into Republican candidates that they wanted to win to benefit the Democrats.


What’s missing? The people! Fairness, one of the pillars of ethics, referred to as justice needs to prevail. The people who are fair should win the elections but not before the owner knows the life of the worker and vice versa. It is tough to achieve fairness when Bezos and Amazon for one give so little to the good life of his workers while he is living such an extravagant lifestyle. The divide between the served and underserved needs to be filled with empathy and justice. Otherwise, there will be the downfall of our precious but precarious democracy. One can only hope. The time off so that you could take a sick day or be scheduled in such a way that you could partake more fully in the life of your family are as reasonable requests as could be. Owners have them.


We want to learn lessons from what has occurred in the steel, trucking industry or any company with a union. Take a look at history to examine the fate of each, worker or owner. if fairness and decisions to empower families of the working class doesn’t occur with reasonable profits for the owners, we will continue to have significant problems with the widening gap between the served and underserved. I learned that lesson again in the least likely place at a dinner after a wedding that I blessed.

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