Thursday, April 17, 2008

On Modern-day Marxism

Reading through the new threads on a certain Winnipeg forum today, I was reminded of the days I spent working at a certain farm equipment manufacturing plant in the 90's.

Firstly, I'll let you in on a little open secret:

I absolutely hate unions.

Don't get me wrong, I acknowledge (and greatly respect) some of the good things unions have done in the past. Thanks to unions of days gone by, we have strict workplace health and safety laws, laws governing wages, limits to the amounts of hours one is required to work, holidays and vacation time, etc. If it weren't for the unions' dedication to their membership, we'd have none of these things today (Solidarnosc!). Plus, they kept the Bourgeoisie and Capitalist pigs in check, which is cool. (I'm kidding, incidentally.)

The key words in the previous paragraph are "unions of days gone by".

In my own union experience, it seemed that all the union did was "protect the dogfuckers". In my years at "the plant", it seemed the place was really run by the lazy assholes who had so much seniority they were nearly impossible to get rid of. Whom I've seen file a grievance against their foreman for being told to "quit fucking around and get back to work" (they won the grievance, foreman got disciplined. Stupid.). The guys who piss around all day, doing little work, but who'll bitch and whine if they don't get their twice-yearly raise and five-week vacation.

We got word, two years after I started, that we had to lay off a few people, 150 to be exact (Guess who was Number 150?). I almost cried tears of joy when I was laid off with no recall date. I soon found another job in a non-union shop that I really enjoyed. Was there for five years before that company left Winnipeg, thus forcing me to look for another job... and I swore I'd never work another union job again.

So, about a week later, I had a job interview near "the plant". Interview went well. Stupidly, though, I'd locked my keys in the car - or rather my dad's car, which I'd borrowed it because mine was in the shop.

My dad also worked at "the plant". He was management, therefore, he wasn't involved in the strike that was taking place at the time. So, I decided to grab my dad's keys from him. I walked the block to the plant, and the strikers (most of whom knew me) let me through without incident. Went to Security, paged my dad, shot the shit with the security guy who remembered me, got my dad's set of keys, and left.

On my way back through the picket line, some union stooge stopped me. He was a guy I didn't recognize, and I knew virtually everybody there... He grabbed my shoulder hard and said "So, you get hired or not, you fuckin' scab?".

I could see a couple of my old line-mates from back in the day move toward the guy. I shook my head "No", so they wouldn't intervene.

I smiled, dangled the keys, and said,"I'm just getting my keys from my dad."

"Oh yeah? Who's your dad?", the turkey said.

"Oh, you wouldn't know him," I answered," since, being a professional striker, you don't even fucking work here!"

The boys from my old line started laughing, not surprised I'd figured out who (and what) this asshole was.

The guy let go of me. He started turning purple, as if he were just about to go ballistic...

"CJ used to work here," came a voice from the crowd, "He's telling you the truth."

I looked over to see "Fred", one of the guys who was on my line originally, but had been elected Union President shortly before I got laid off.

"He's a good kid", Fred told the agitator.

The guy didn't pursue the issue, but instead tried to explain to me in the most belligerent manner, about how they're gonna win this one, going on and on about how the company is no longer in complete control of the plant, that "we're costing them $250,000 every day we're on strike", NDP this, NDP that, and so on. The guy was turning a nice shade of red, and the veins in his forehead and neck were popping out...

After about five minutes of union diatribe I started getting a bit testy. Then nasty.

When he stopped to take a breath, I pounced.

"So," I started, "What you're telling me, in your roundabout way, is that you prefer a system in which the workers control the means of production?"

As I suspected, he didn't get the reference. Fred, however, did, and gave me the "don't do it!" look.

"Uhhhh, yeah," the agitator smiled, "I guess I do! That's what we're fighting for here today."

"Well, that's not a new idea," I explained, in my best poker face, "in fact, that very concept was brought forth by someone famous. A very famous philosopher, in fact!'

"Oh yeah?", the agitator asked proudly,"Really"

I nodded. Fred covered his face with his hands, shaking his head in disbelief.

"And who would that be?", he asked.

I yelled "Karl Marx, you fucking commie!"

The poor guy stood there dumbfounded, while Fred collapsed in hysterics. My buddies didn't really get the reference either, but thought my calling the guy a commie was funny. Everyone else wondered what the Hell was going on.

"CJ made (the agitator) look stupid!", one of the boys answered.

"Oh."

I was bought a lot of beer that evening... apparently this guy had been annoying everyone.

* Now, before any of you pro-union types start leaving me threatening comments, I'll come clean and tell you I don't really hate ALL unions, just the "Local" I was in. Even then, it was the union itself (and not the membership) I hated. The whole rather than the sum of its parts, if you will. I disagreed with so many things (jobs postings filled by seniority rather than ability, union defending criminal behaviour by members, turning a blind eye to other things, etc) it wasn't funny. Maybe my experience was the exception, not the rule. But I'll never know personally, because I'll never work in another union shop again. I'm sure unions are still fighting the good fight and some may actually have their memberships' best interests at heart. And they're still keeping the Bourgeoisie and Capitalist pigs in check. At least the ones who haven't moved their operations to India or China, or the developing world...