The Union Forever

I am forgiving by nature and upbringing. I place a high value on civility in public discourse. I basically believe in modern, Western, liberal ideals about governing through compromise. When it comes to organized labor though, I admit to being a rabid partisan. My family’s been union going back at least three generations. We didn’t get paid vacations, employer-provided health insurance, safe working conditions, time and a half for overtime, retirement plans, and 40 hour work weeks because employers nicely gave them to us. Workers took those things, after decades of blood and work and fear. To people who think “Well, the government protects those rights for us now”, no they fucking well do not–not unless someone feels secure enough in their job to report violations knowing they can’t be fired for doing so. OSHA and your state labor department do not vigorously wander the nation’s workplaces trying to ping wrongdoers. They can barely keep up with rare inspections and complaints as it is. In honor of my brave union brothers and sisters in Wisconsin, I’m reprinting part of a post I ran back in 2004.

I understand why employers don’t like dealing with unions. There’s a whole additional layer of bureaucracy and a tangle of labor laws dating back over a century. Even an honest union, which ours is, has to defend all its members sometimes, even the fuck-ups. (It doesn’t mean that no one can be fired, but it does mean that you have to have sound, well-documented reasons to do so. “He’s late a lot, he has a bad attitude, his work isn’t up to par” is too vague–“he’s been late four times this month, he had a conflict with a supervisor on Jan 20, and his error rate is way above acceptable” hits closer to the mark.) Most of all, union employees generally have to be paid better. If we think we’re really being treated unfairly, we can ALL strike and leave the employer scrambling to find someone who can do a half-assed acceptable job.

I can see disliking a specific union because it’s corrupt, or run by idiots, or collects dues without ever helping the workers. I will NEVER understand employees who dislike unions in general. Men and women died in the streets–literally, shot or beaten or trampled by horses–for the right to bargain collectively. Employers can scare any one worker into thinking s/he will be fired if they don’t work more hours for less pay, give up a health benefit, or accept substandard working conditions. It’s a lot tougher to convince fifty or a hundred or a thousand people that they can be replaced at a moment’s notice by hungry young workers who’ll do anything for the job.

Most of all, I don’t get the characterization of “the union” as this outside force that runs things. Unions are democratic bodies, their decisions generally made by simple majority vote. If you think things are being done poorly, you can vote against a measure, make a new motion, or run for office to try and change things. That voice in your own economic future is becoming less common in this country, and I hate to see yet more people lose that voice.

Could I have something easy, please?

Every call I handle at work today is a long call for sales (not my area), or a strange run-time error, or corrupt data causing bizarre problems, or users who want our server to give them reports about information they never enter in. I am sincerely hoping that when I get home tonight, my steak will not turn out to be made of ostrich, my TV won’t inexplicably be broadcasting Soviet dramas from the 70s, and my cats won’t be chirping.

An anti-post

I have nothing in particular to post about. I’m vaguely tired, a little grumpy, borderline worried for the cat, tired of the cold, and want to do very little besides take a nap and watch the most low-impact TV shows possible.

Oh, right. It’s Vermont in February.

I am the problem with comics

I’ve loved comic books for almost as long I’ve loved sunny weekends, my mom, and fried chicken. I started with kids’ comics like Richie Rich and Casper, then quickly graduated to the Justice League, X-Men, All-Star Squadron, and Dr. Strange. That led to a love of the 80s British Invasion titles like Watchmen and Doom Patrol, interest in the alt comix scene, and close interest in both the gritty comics of the 90s and the resurgence of cheeky, fun titles in the past decade. So here I am, a 40-something reader of comics. I have a love of sequential art, pretty good knowledge of mainstream comics history, a sound education, carefully crafted tastes. And I am part of the problem with comics.

 

Justice League, Alex Ross

Justice League, Alex Ross

Think for a moment about Batman’s origin story. A young Bruce Wayne leaves the movie theater with his parents after a great night out–The Mark of Zorro was playing. They’re confronted by a thug who shoots Ma and Pa Wayne in a robbery gone wrong. (Sometimes he’s unnamed, sometimes he’s connected to the Joker, sometimes he’s a career criminal named Joe Chill.) Bruce devotes his time to perfecting his body and mind, his fortune to building an amazing secret headquarters, his very life to fighting the city’s criminals. He’s got Alfred, the Batmobile, Robin and/or Batgirl, Commissioner Gordon. Longtime comics readers: how many memories do these bring back? How many stories from Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Denny O’Neill, Doug Moench, Bob Kane and Bill Finger? Batman has moved on to success in several TV series, movies, toys, and games. He’s affected popular culture in general–we would look askance at a modern American who couldn’t identify Batman or Joker from a picture.

Now name a comic character created within the last 25 years that’s crossed over into mainstream success. 25 years is several lifetimes for popular culture, yet we’re still flocking to stories about Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Captain America, the X-Men–all characters created before most of you reading this were born. It’s not like those original stories were brilliant–Golden Age comics were unsophisticated and often crudely drawn, for all their fun. Silver Age stories from the 60s are hardly better–the characters only have more depth compared to the one-note heroes of the 1940s. But people have done brilliant things with those stories: “The Killing Joke, Doom Patrol, Kingdom Come, the Chris Claremont-John Byrne run on X-Men. Inspired by the wide-eyed stories of their youth, first-rate writers and artists created those, inspiring yet another generation to love those same characters.

We’re caught in a loop: we’ve built up Logan and Janet Van Dyne and Green Lantern and Dinah Drake into mythical figures, retelling their best stories in different interations. As veteran comics fans we need to be more adventurous, more willing to embrace new titles like Astro City and more willing to accept the change or demise of classic characters. Many of us will be around for 2039; do we really want the ridiculous scene of yet another Batman origin story a full century after the first one?