Heresy in Protest

Heresy in Protest

Heretics abound, restricted
not by faith, or perhaps bound
by an overabundance of faith
in their cause, a method born
of a desire to establish worth.

Strike not those who would
strike against you, for should
not violence be left in the past,
even when considered to be
the roots of our success?

Yet, having raised the cost
of our labors to one negotiated
not on the streets but at the table,
is not the bargain assured
to those whose motive is profit?

When others would aid in that profit
by doing the masters’ bidding,
who is to blame those who trade
bargaining for violence, and who should
be the first to call them heretics?

This poem is my response to Poetics: Epiphany in the Time of Holiday, the prompt from Dora at dVerse ~ Poets Pub. Dora asks that we “write about such a moment in the context of its occurrence (shopping, socializing, celebrating, religious observance), a moment of epiphany.” I am not able to relate any holiday to an epiphany, so this will have to do.

As described by Dora, “An epiphany, writes critic X. J. Kennedy, is ‘some moment of insight, discovery, or revelation by which a character’s life, or view of life, is greatly altered.’” I have chosen to address a moral issue with my poem.

Mine is a blue-collar background in trucking, with more than thirty years as a member of the Teamsters union. With many nights spent beside fire barrels while manning pickets to protest management’s reluctance to bargain, usually during contract negotiations for a multi-employer contract, I also have stood by fellow members as strikebreakers were hired by their individual employers to replace them. Those times were no holiday.  Well into the 1990s, I saw picketers resort to violence, not physical violence against strikebreakers, but violent enough to cause damage to equipment. The movement was supposed to have moved beyond those tactics, but an argument against them could be futile when others saw no alternative. While I understood the history of my union and the establishment of the first nationwide contract in the 1950s, I never understood the violence that led to it. Having witnessed, first-hand, some degree of that, I made every effort to remove myself from anyone who subscribed to participating in it.

Image source: duluthnewstribune.com

33 thoughts on “Heresy in Protest

  1. There’s an old joke. “Who did they find when they scraped Tammy Faye’s make-up off? Jimmy Hoffa.” I, too, am from a blue-collar family. We used to say we were upper/lower class” I liked your pluck regarding the prompt.

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  2. Ken,
    Powerfully concentrated words, and in our times, only too relevant. Not that you’re making a case for violence, but at what point does “sitting at the table” become giving in, is an insight into the greater truth of what constitutes “negotiation.” As you point out, past history answers that question and it’s heresy until it works. Quite a conundrum, until we reach the tipping point. But I pray all sides will see reason before then. (Thanks for sharing your background in the Teamsters which gives added weight to your words.)
    pax,
    dor

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    • Thank you, Dora.
      I honestly think that labor relations (at least in modern times) has reached a point where negotiation is the accepted method of reaching agreement, albeit with concessions from both sides. Sadly, union membership in the US is at, or near, an all time low. Employers often have the upper hand. Tempers flare, with negative results.
      Thank you for the prompt.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Maybe it’s the word “strike” and its connotations that drag labor protest into violence. There’s a bad history too of company-hired strike-busters and the awful violence they brought to the fray. Bad memories. Trucking is tough business, ever more so these days and unions are a necessary resort. Interesting that a long hauler like yourself would also be a river lover.

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    • Maybe “strike’ as a term is rooted in the anger and unrest that fueled the early labor movement.
      A river can be such a calming influence. And if it’s a wild rapids it can be humbling, a reminder of how small we are in the bigger picture. (Even if that bigger picture includes the destruction wrought by man, unfortunately.)

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  4. Thank you for sharing your history with the union. Something recently reminded me of your truck driving days. That would be difficult to be involved with the strike, but then have to remove yourself from the violence.
    Both my husband and daughter were very much involved in the teacher’s union, but fortunately there was never any violence, and they’re both out of public school teaching now. I guess schools in some places are battlegrounds now. . .

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  5. A really interesting poem and background. In the UK, blue-collar work used to be heavily unionised, but I think Thatcher broke the back of the unions, and now workers have pretty awful pay and conditions, widening the equality gap.

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  6. We have reached a position here in Sweden where a lot of things are negotiated, and actually, most companies have accepted that if you give and take you can reach a good position… the union are powerful enough so we don’t have any minimum wages… which may seem strange, but if it is always negotiated the result is often better… also I don’t know of any violence in my lifetime… maybe the incidents in 1931 when military shot at workers on strike was such a heinous act that many said never again

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%85dalen_shootings

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