Are Unions Dying?


Lester “The Lip” Lapczynski nursing a ginger ale in the air conditioned blast at the dark end of a Chicago Loop bar. Ninety five degrees on the second of September. Late afternoon. Downtown emptying out for the Labor Day Weekend. Lester in the red plaid jacket. Bad combover. Cheap black framed glasses.

Lester was always home at the bar. And I had a Labor Day question. So I stopped by because they had closed the cubicles up early.

Lester?

Shut up Roger.

But I haven’t . . .

Yea I know. You haven’t. So I will. I’ll put the question out there. Besides. Shut up is a good way to start with a guy like you. Kinda guy who thinks he knows stuff.

Lester, if I knew stuff. . .would I have been. . . .

Yeah, well. I know why you’re here. You’re here to ask about unions. Ain’t you? You’re here to ask me if they’re dying, right?

Well yeah.

You’re here to ask me if their time has come.

Well as a matter of fact. . .

Don’t tell me facts Roger. Because that question ain’t got squat to do with facts.

Lester how can you say that? It’s a fact that union membership is going down big time. It’s a fact that unions have been known to be run by crooks. Crooks, Lester. Crooks!

Roger. Have a not taught you nothing? You pissant. You call yourself “Chicago Guy” and put the picture of Algren up there on the top of this page. You are a child. You don’t see it do you?

Lester, what I see is that up in Wisconsin, all over the country, there are people trying to bust unions!

Wisconsin government? You mean ‘The Student Council?’ Roger, that’s an easy one. Even for you. Think Roger. Think about bullies. Plain old garden variety cheap, flat and empty bullies. Of course the bullies in Wisconsin are trying to bust the union. Any moron could see that. That’s easy. But I’d expect you to dig a bit deeper Roger. Now think. Ain’t there more to figuring out unions in 2011 than calling out bullies?

Well, I know that a lot of the people who run unions are crooks. They don’t care about the workers. They just care about the cream they can skim off the top. Is that what you mean?

Nice news flash ace. People who run unions can be scum. Keep that kind of deep thinking up and maybe somebody will actually hire you for real money to write something. No, that ain’t it.

Ok, then look at the fight going on with the teachers union here in Chicago. They’re saying the Mayor is trying to bust the union. And the mayor is saying “I’m embarrassed that Chicago has the shortest school day of any big city in America.” Both sides are saying ‘This is about the kids’ and. . .

Whoa. Easy, Urban Cowboy. This is about the KIDS? Did I just hear you say, ‘This is about the KIDS?’ You are fucking kidding me. This is NEVER about the kids. Ever. That kind of line is ALWAYS code,

Well what’s it about then?

It’s simple Roger. It’s about power. Just power. Of course there are scumbags running unions. There are scumbags running churches and countries and companies and even charities. Now, let me pause there for a minute to let you take that in. I know you can be a little slow sometimes.

OK Lester. I got it. Scumbags everywhere.

So here’s the point. Oh wait. Before I tell you again. What was it you used to do where you made all that money?

Male model?

Don’t be cute Roger. I’m trying to teach you something. Oh yeah. Teach. You used to teach bosses how to be better bosses. Now, how’s that working out? Anybody paying for that these days?

Lester, you already know no one pays for that anymore.

Of course I know. That train left the station about three years ago. A person can do that kind of teaching indirectly. Maybe you can do it well. I heard you were usually pretty good at it. Accept for that time at the church when it didn’t work out.

Lester, lets not talk about where it didn’t work. That will get us off track. That’s a whole other story in itself. The point is that no one really helps or teaches bosses to be better bosses. No one really teaches leaders to lead. The world is full of people called bosses. And lots of them just aren’t very good at being bosses. And the people above those front line bosses–they just don’t care.

Hah! Now you’re getting it. Now you’re close. So I’ll push you on to the finish line and tell you the answer.

The answer is this Roger. People will always need unions. Always. Even when the unions are a big fat collection of pigs at a trough just like the management they go head to head with. You know why Roger?

Why?

Because there will always be a need to protect the vulnerable. Protect them from bosses who don’t know HOW to be bosses. OR—and this is even tougher–protect them from larger forces, or bigger bosses, that just don’t CARE. Folks who LIVE to step on the little guy.

So unions will never die. Because we will always need someone to protect the vulnerable? That’s what you’re telling me Lester?

Always. Always. Always. And if the union doesn’t do that then fix the fucking union. Or find some other way to fill the need of protecting the vulnerable. Fix it Roger. Don’t kill it. Fix it.

But what if. . . .

There are million what if’s Roger. A billion. And it all comes down to this. Somebody has got to look out for the little guy. Because if no one does that? We’re all done. It’s over. So you hear me Roger?

I hear you Lester.

OK, if you hear me.. . .then what am I saying?

You’re saying Happy Labor Day.

Damn straight.

3 Responses to “Are Unions Dying?”

  1. Ted Schneider Says:

    Roger,
    I would agree that unions do not seem to have the same purpose that they did when they were first set up generations ago with OSHA, child labor laws and other type organizations to protect the workers. From a wage perspective unions are always there to help (if you don’t count the dues you pay) but the only problem I see with unions is everyone gets the same pay – no real incentive to do better, stand out etc. – meaning the lazy worker who does nothing gets the same as the person who busts their butt. The only problem with this today is no one is getting raises so does it really matter? Overall, I agree that in recent examples (WI) the union is there to protect the worker against the establishment.
    Ted

  2. Tom Simeone Says:

    Thought I would comment here since the fur is really flying over in “the other place”. Thanks for keeping this out there, Roger. So few know how much of what they take for granted was earned by the sweat, tears and copious amounts of blood of the original union organizers, male and female.

    So long as we keep buying the American dream (delusion) that we are not the exploited masses, but simply “temporarily embarassed” multi-millionaires, we will continue our mantra, “Please sir, may I have another?”

  3. Paulhaider74 Says:

    Unions have been dying since August of 1981, when President Ronald Regan fired all of the air traffic controllers who were on strike; unions were never the same again, and the upper management of corporations were able to maximize their profits at the expense of the employees and their unions. Yes, it was St. Ronald Raygun who empowered all of those defenseless and vulernable CEO’s.
    Paul Haider, Chicago

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