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Obama, JFK and FDR

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A recent article of mine about Obama was the impetus for this piece. For reasons that are probably too lengthy to explain here, the song “Working Class Hero” came to mind as I thought of the various reactions and responses that little article engendered.

I have been listening to the John Lennon track over and over and find myself amazed at just how much it means to me. Forget for a moment that he was one of the most famous people in the world at the time, and an extremely wealthy one at that. Just consider the opening lines:

As soon as you’re born they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
A working class hero is something to be

This is not a music review. If anything, it’s a companion piece to my recent political piece. But the words John Lennon wrote strike at the very heart of how I feel as a person.

Not that anyone cares, but I have a story (to be told as briefly as possible) to tell. My grandfather was born as what we now (or used to) call a “bastard child” in 1902. He hit the “rails,” or the hobo life, at 12. Too young to be considered for action in WWI, and without any skills whatsoever, he was on his own. Try as the family might have over the years, he never really explained to us how he survived until the WPA projects of FDR in the thirties.

He, and my grandmother met while he was working on the roads for the Glacier National Park in Montana. They met, married, had three daughters, and never parted until her passing in 1972. My grandfather’s name was Roy Rieck, and I have never in my 48 years ever met a man I have respected more.

He wound up working in the shipyards in Bremerton, WA. And I will repeat the rich, English-born musician’s lines again because I think they say it better than any I have ever heard:

As soon as you’re born they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
A working class hero is something to be

And just to be complete in this, and not present my grandfather as some sort of saint; In 1984 when Jesse Jackson was a candidate for the Democratic party, Grandpa told me he was “done with the Democrats.” His Missouri upbringing 100 years ago had never erased the inherent racism endemic to the South at that time. I like to think that Obama’s election in 2008 did a lot to erase that legacy. But I will never know, as he died in 1992.

And I might as well finish this off by telling you that my son has taken a job which has forced him to become a member of a union. It is simply a requirement as far as he knows; so I tried to explain the concept of unions to him.

Laugh, or agree with me. But I told him that once upon a time, a company could screw a worker at will, and that particular employee had very little recourse. But if 100 workers walked off the job together, then the company was forced to actually listen to their demands, or shut down. I also told him how this situation became extremely corrupted, with millions of dollars flowing in, with no real oversight. The initial develoment of Las Vegas was such an amazing example.

I always thought that Nixon’s portrayal of the Republicans in1968 as the party of the Silent Majority was inspired. I also thought Clinton’s “It’s the economy, stupid” to be equally effective. I cannot imagine either party coming up with anything in 2012 that will resonate with voters in any way shape or form. In all honesty, very little has changed. Sadly, the latest exploits of Kim Kardashian seem far more important to everyone. No wonder the entire nation is looked upon by the rest of the world as — well, you tell me. “Geniuses at the forefront of technology, or morons,” both impressions fit.

An earlier comment by El Bicho made the valid point that 10 months is a long time in politics. Yes or no, only time will tell. Outside of the resurrection of JFK as a Republican, we are with Obama until 2016.

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About Greg Barbrick

  • Cannonshop

    Good article, Mr. Barbrick. I’m afraid that the kind of man JFK was, happens maybe once in a century if your nation is very, very, lucky. We’re not going to get that lucky again.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Bremerton, huh? That’s where I’m at now. Many of my friends work at the shipyard, and I know it pretty well after my Naval career.

    It’s funny how the unions here protect the workers, but so many in the unions here are retired military and are quite conservative.

  • Igor

    It’s astonishing that your son knows so little about union history in America. Laborers in America were relentlessly exploited by factory workers and mine owners before unions could struggle to gain representation. It’s amazing that your son never heard about this stuff in school, or even in outside reading. He should read books by Upton Sinclair, John Dos Passos, etc. My uncles were laborers and union organizers during the 20s and 30s and could tell stories of the police being sent in to kill strikers and organizers. I saw union men beaten up in the 50s while recruiting dock workers.

    IMO a lot of the middleclass wealth and improvements in living condition in the 40s thru the 70s was because of unions. The white collar middleclass that arose then was due to the union men whose shoulders they (we) rode on.

  • Dan

    “if 100 workers walked off the job together, then the company was forced to actually listen to their demands, or shut down…”—Greg

    Or they could hire new workers. Except the union workers would commit violence on the new workers.

    Unions get power mostly through threat of violence and property destruction. Thus preventing others the freedom to voluntarily engage in economic freedom by obtaining a job, and by stifling a companies ablity to engage in true free market competition by providing product for consumers at a true free market value.

  • Igor

    #4-Dan talks silly trash. The violence that occured during the unionization years was primarily committed by the companies and their toadies: the police and the national guard, both of whom were routinely called out by political leaders in service to their business masters.

    Union organizers were routinely murdered by police, who received rewards in the form of booze, money and prostitutes.

    Acts of violence attributed to unionists were routinely tracked down by the muck rakers and found to be acts by agents provacateur on hire to the companies.

    You are a fool if you believe that any individual laborer has an equal bargaining position to a company hiring authority. The basic tool of management is ‘divide and conquer’. Individuals are powerless and there is a rush to the bottom in pay.

    While the companies complain endlessly about workers organizing to improve their bargaining position, they are quite ready to band together themselves openly against workers and against their own customers in a monopoly.

    The attrition of unions is one of the significant reasons for the decline of the American worker since 1980, and the steady decline in real wages and increase in working hours.

  • Igor

    The decline in unions is a major factor in our financial collapse.

  • Clavos

    The decline in unions is due in large part to the decades-long mal- and misfeasance by union thugs…er, officials; especially the mishandling of member dues — union officials live high on the hog, while hobnobbing with their company executive counterparts and cheating on political donations to buy politicians.

    The decline of unions is squarely on their own officials.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    And how much, Clavos, is your opinion due to what Big Business has told conservatives, and conservatives have been so eager to believe?

    The fact that Airbus and Boeing are so successful, and that our car manufacturers are back in the black in a big way, both show the falsity of your belief that the unions are SO bad. Are unions perfect? Of course not – but they serve as a CRUCIAL counterbalance to corporate greed.

    Perhaps the best example is the NON-union Massey Big Branch coal mine explosion that happened a couple years back. Anyone who complained about the problem with ventilation was ignored – or if they were insistent, fired. Twenty-four of the twenty-six who died had evidence of black lung disease, whereas the incidence of black lung disease in union mines is below ten percent.

    As I’ve said so many times before, I wish you’d take your cherished cynicism and apply it to what your fellow conservatives tell you…because they’re wrong more often than not.

  • Igor

    Big Business has been running a campaign of lies against unions for at least 60 years.

    The ‘thugs’ that appeared at union events were most often Pinkertons, from the famous detective agency, sent to beatup union organizers. They relished the assignment. Sometimes they were off-duty cops. But even on-duty cops were glad to beatup unionists to curry favor with the business bosses.

    I never even HEARD of a union guy sent to beat up an executive, have you? But I saw with my own eyes a bunch of deckhands, paid by the Tow Company manager, beat up a union organizer and throw him off the back of a barge tow on the Mississippi (when I was a 18 yr. old deckhand myself). They had special delight that he was “a Jew from New York”.

    River tow deckhands are notoriously violent (cf. “Mike Fink, half horse, half man, half alligator”), but direct their violence against other deckhands AND union organizers. Management is NEVER attacked because that’s payday!

    I think that you actually know nothing but have been deceived by a steady anti-union propaganda campaign.

    Hell, in those days I was a vigorous conservative republican myself (like most deckhands), and I never belonged to a union myself, but I didn’t deceive myself about what the TRUTH was.

  • Clavos

    Hell, in those days I was a vigorous conservative republican myself (like most deckhands), and I never belonged to a union myself, but I didn’t deceive myself about what the TRUTH was.

    Well, I DID belong to a union, the IAMAW (the same one that Cannonshop belongs to at Boeing), and I saw enough during that time to stand by my every word in #7, above.

    Later in my airline career, I was a management negotiator in union contract negotiations and grievance issues — I learned plenty about unions and their officials during those years.

    Not everything about unions is bad, but, as they grew, they became every bit as over the top and sleazy as the worst corporate management people did.

    And what’s killing them are those practices on the part of most (not all) union leadership..

  • Igor

    If one accepts your premise, that the union leaders are as bad as the corporation executives, one still cannot eliminate unions because that would mean that ALL the power is in the hands of the corps, who have a vested interest in oppressing and even killing workers.

    If workers are to be barred from organizing, then companies must also be barred from organizing, and the whole corporate dodge eliminated. The only form of business alliance would be partnerships, which are frail and do NOT eliminate liability, which is the main purpose of corporations.

  • As a matter of record, “The Silent Majority” Speech, November 3, 1969, had nothing to do with unions. It had to do with Viet Nam.
    You must have seen a bumper sticker.