Monday, September 2, 2013

Talking to workers

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I wrote the other day about how helpless we can feel when we watch too much TV. Especially the 1%'s news programs that are designed to make us hate and fear each other. Everyone is out to get us, the neighbor, the black youth with the hoodie, the guy up the street, the Sikh with the turban and quite naturally, the Moslems and most of the people outside out borders.

For me, the best antidote for this is to get out there and talk to people.  This is one advantage of the drinking establishment.  Now I'm not saying that pubs (I am not talking about the extreme dive bar here) don't have their negative side. But, let's face it, these are places that workers congregate. If you want to meet the American people, you might try a bar.

I probably drink more than Dr. Phil would say is wise.  But I don't drink much at home, I come from a culture where parents, their kids and quite possibly the kids grandparents might meet in a pub to talk about life and escape from the drudgery of working life.

I remember when the guys at work used to invite me for a drink after the workday and warn me, "We don't want any of that union or political talk, Rich, give it a rest once in a while.""No problem",  was usually my answer.  But no sooner had we got to the establishment and especially after a couple of brews, I was overwhelmed by the questions about the Union or what's happening in America and on and on. Workers like to talk about the world around us.

Some readers might be aware that my wife and I are victims of a house fire and at the moment we are living in a motel.  I needed to get out for an hour or two tonight and headed to a bar the receptionist at the hotel recommended. I found it easy enough, an Irish (Irish American) bar not too far away.  When I first walked in, there were only two or three people sitting at the bar and another couple playing pool.  None were Irish I don't think. I ordered my first pint form the bartender, a woman from Kentucky and sat there for a bit before turning to the guy next to me and opening up a conversation. I can't see the point of being in the company of other human beings if you don't talk to them.   It turned out he was a union guy, a member of the Operating Engineers, a huge US construction union that I think is the largest construction union in the world.   He was a good union guy but was very unhappy with his leadership.  Most workers don't generally express it this way tending to attack the union as an institution instead.  I explained my views on this which I think I have done many times on this blog so I won't repeat them but we had a good chat.  He agreed with me that at some point in this country there is going to be some upheaval. He raised that he had a contractor friend who hired mostly Mexicans as "Americans don't like to work"

I differed with him on this.  The big business press is always talking about how workers in Mexico or Vietnam are "more willing" to work for less than Americans and that Americans refuse to do the jobs they will do or that we're lazy.  "It's not that the Mexicans are more willing or harder workers" I said, "They are more desperate, that is the reason." There's nothing wrong with American workers wanting more, the point is that we should demand it for everyone, all workers.

Anyway, he left and there was a woman sitting on the other side of him so I got talking to her. I have to admit, that it is normally me that starts these conversations but I don't necessarily finish them.  She was a single mother and had, like so many of us, been through some difficult times I gathered.  She eventually started working for herself cleaning homes and commercial property.  She described how hard it was for her to find a job but she did research on the internet trying to find what sort of industry might be best for her to break in to as an individual and house cleaning seemed the best opportunity. She did most of the work herself though occasionally hired people.

We talked for a while about child rearing, work, women and men and what makes us behave the way we do. She was explaining what it was like with two kids that her personal life was never separate form her wondering if the kids were OK and was she away too long etc. The bartender came over and she talked about growing up in Kentucky and how wonderful her father was as she never knew her mother and her father raised her. She talked about working as a bartender for 25 years and how she loved it because she got to talk to people and,listen to them as they talked about their lives. These two women were very sharp, interesting characters.

We discussed many issues relevant to life and work.  In the hour or two I was there I had discussions with American workers like myself about war, work, child rearing, the difference between men and women and more. I was so happy among my own people.

At times, I feel a bit self conscious that I am what is called an extrovert and talk to anyone. I don't do it for any other reason that I believe humans are collective and gregarious creatures, when you talk to people, they talk back. There's almost no such thing as an uninteresting life.  Human beings are interesting. We care about each other.  The 1% learned in the Vietnam war not to bring the reality of war to the evening news because when we see other's suffering we are moved by it no matter the race, religion or color of the people involved; we want to help.  So now all we hear on the evening news is one murder after another, the degeneration of our humanity in a society that places profit above all things but even this is a warped version of reality. Every minute of every day, we cooperate with each other in some way or another.

The frustrating thing about these experiences is that I want the rest of the world to experience them. I want those whose only experience with Americans is a drone attack or as invading forces to see that we are also struggling in our own way, that the Dick Cheney's Donald Rumsfeld's, Georg W Bush's or Barack Obama's do not represent what we are.  They can call themselves Americans but they are not the Americans that vast majority of us associate with and live with every day of our lives. The members of the US Congress are all millionaires, most Americans have nothing in common with them and to be honest despise them.  What to do about it is another issue.

But I was buoyed tonight as I so often am by the associations I have with the people that make society function.  It's experiences like these that give hope for the future.

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