A Perspective About Unions

Hi readers. Thanks for coming for a visit.

My biological father, Raymond Waxey [Red] Purcell, was a union organizer for 45-50 years. [One of the Fascinations of Christian TV]

I can’t think of a single thing I admire about him.  In fact, I sincerely believe in a well-ordered, well-meaning, sane world he’d never have been allowed to reproduce.  And most especially not allowed to combine his gene-pool with the gene-pool of Alice Eugenia Hudson.

However, I can thank him for a lot of what I know about unions in the United States.  During the years I knew him  it was mostly the only thing he cared about, generally the main thing he talked about.  And I do believe he cared about the workers he organized, their dismal wages, long hours, dangerous working conditions.  He was a fighter, and he fought hard for them at considerable physical risk to himself.

Especially during the early years getting thrown in jail, beaten up, harassed by cops and company goons was a way of life for him.

I’ve been a union member myself, longshoreman, construction worker, taxicab drivers, teamsters, and I’ve seen the sweetheart contracts, the corruption, the sellouts, and I’d want nothing to do with unions if I were a member of the work force today.

So when I was eavesdropping on a couple of Texas geniuses  in a restaurant the other day explaining to one another how the unions have driven all the industry out of the US I found myself asking myself,

“Could any US worker make a living on 13 cents an hour?  Would the multi-nationals have kept the operations here if only workers would work for the wage they’ll be paying in the country where they’re sending the jobs?”

To suggest organized workers have ruined this country is to turn a blind eye to the sacrifices and risks they chose to take to organize, and why they made those sacrifices, took those risks.

Jeanne’s granddad owned a lumber mill in Oregon during the 1930s.  It was burned down by unions, it’s said.  She says she was talking with her cousin about it and he explained it was at a time unions where at the pinnacle of corruption.

But then of course,” She went on, “He was a man who didn’t care anything about anyone, or anything but himself.”

That probably just about sums up why we had unions, why workers organized.  What it doesn’t explain is why, having done it, they became so corrupt so pervasively.

The nearest Red Purcell ever came to getting actually homicided as a result of his job, he often said, was when he was hiding under the table in a locked house with union goons from a competing union trying to get in.

Old Jules

5 responses to “A Perspective About Unions

  1. Unions have protected workers from the working conditions that gave us the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. There are plenty of geniuses here, in the northeast, who want to blame the unions for the state of the economy. Greed is insidious.
    I know Jeanne is busy getting her daughter ready for college but it would be interesting to hear more about the lumber mill.

    • Hi Elroyjones, it may be a while before I can give any accurate details on that story. My grandmother kept a scrapbook with all the newspaper articles of the event and the trial and sentencing, but we’re not sure who has it. My brother passed it on to my aunts at a reunion and my cousin is going to search around for it in a couple of weeks when he visits his mom. At that point we plan to make scans of the articles and then I’ll have a copy.

  2. Doesn’t matter who you are, if you get the upper hand you misuse it. That’s human nature, survival of the fittest, whatever.

  3. Very nuanced post, Jules. Nice you were able to separate your personal views of the man, based on what seems to have been a painful experience, from his life’s work.
    I too think unions, despite all its deterioration and leader corruption, partly sponsored by the growth of big corp in the early 60s, are still vital, and often the last line of defense against the completely exploitation of workers by big fat bosses.
    It’s really the other way around: the U.S. productive sector, its manufacturing industry and the production of basic goods got actually hurt with the relentless combat on unions by bosses and the right. And Reagan was one that led the charge.
    We do need a more modern concept of organized workforce, more democratic, transparent, and more technologically savvy. But that doesn’t mean to dismantle current structures as it’d serve only the powerful.
    Not sure you’re aware of this, but there’s been a big clash between community petition organizers and traditional teacher unions. It’s all a mess, and mostly the dispute is playing exactly the way pro-capital interests want it. It’s a shame they’ve managed to sow such a divisive line at the heart of labor relations in this country. But it also shows how the movement has crystalized in such a way that it feels threatened by even the smallest community grassroots movement.
    While we stand divided, they profit and speak with one authoritarian voice. Gosh we do need a new day and a fresh start in America. W.

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