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Labor Day Picnic Report back: What the fuck is my union doing endorsing BRADWOOD LANDING??

I went to the labor day picnic at Oaks Park. Frankly, the free food and rides are about all I get from my union anymore. My wages have failed to keep up with inflation, I work longer hours than I think anyone should, and my health benefits have eroded, yet again. But I get this one bone, year after year. The union picnic. So I went. And I could not help but notice a few things.
First, I have to say, it was a strange epiphany to look around and realize, while listening to the lyrics of "Which Side Are You On" by the band General Strike, that almost everyone there was a public employee. I saw almost no representation from the manufacturing or trade jobs, for example. Is that because so very few workers outside of the public sphere are represented by a union? There's some food for thought we should be chewing on along with our free potato salad.

And those of us fortunate enough to be represented? Our wages tend to be a little higher, our benefits a little better, but what ever happened to the workers' revolt? Why are we still working longer hours and making so much less than the CEOs? Why are our health benefits being gutted with every new contract? Why don't our wages keep up with inflation? Why do our elected representatives get to vote in double digit raises for themselves, while we are expected to throw our hands up in celebration over 3%? When did our unions become instruments of our co-optation? What ever happened to REAL unions, led by REAL workers, rather than the corporate sponsored jokes that pass for unions now? Was it back when Samuel Gompers started playing tennis with big businessmen in exclusive clubs back east? Was it when the CIA started using the AFL-CIO as a front to funnel money down South to buy elections and pay for death squads in support of right wing fascist dictators in Latin America? Or was it when we just stopped fighting for what we have forgotten is ours to take? What has happened to us, that we would think wearing a green t-shirt (or purple, or blue) one day a year over hot dogs and pepsi products is enough?

While I'm on that subject, why on earth would my union be asking me to trade in scrip for PEPSI products??? Mug root beer, sierra mist, pepsi, and pepsi light. Don't get me started on that.

I walked my family over to listen to the speakers, thinking this would be more enlightening than riding on the rockin' tug. Instead of the rousing, fiery speeches that I imagine my Wobbly grandfather listened to when he went to the labor day picnic, I listened to a woman ramble incoherently about how we must all vote for Barak Obama and Joe Biden. She went on to berate McCain, not for his abysmal record, not for his support of the wars in the east, not even for his half-dead demeanor. Instead, she ranted on about how "insulted as a woman" she is that McCain chose a woman VP running mate. Wtf???

"I am INSULTED," she shouted. "As a woman, I am INSULTED, that he would pick a woman." It made no sense. It was ridiculous. Even if she had actually managed to wind that up with some kind of coherent thread that suggested that McCain did so for (gasp!) political reasons, rather than because she was the most qualified candidate, I would have found her spiel insulting. But she did not even do that much. She never managed to make any sense of it at all. She just kept saying how insulting she found it that McCain chose a woman running mate. Frankly, I'm horribly offended that Obama did NOT choose a woman running mate. I'm so offended by that fact that it has cost the man my vote. But that's another story.

After that, I thought it could only get better. Imagine my surprise, then, when the speeches ended with a request that we all thank Bradwood Landing. Did I hear that right? Is my union endorsing Bradwood Landing??? The corporate hog trying to ram a horrific and unwanted LNG plant down the throats of the people of Rural Cascadia? Couldn't be. I sat up straighter, trying to hear differently. But the speaker waived her arm toward some banner hanging limply between the trees at the back of the large audience and again asked us all to "thank Bradwood Landing for their generosity." I turned to squint at the banner, and, sure enough. Bradwood Landing. I actually walked over there to be sure. And yes. Not only was there a banner, but there was free ice cream being doled from a chest beneath it, and clean-cut, smiling people stood nearby, holding out clipboards and asking people to sign something. I walked up just in time to see a woman hastily signing a card clipped to the board of a smiling man in a spiffy, blue, Bradwood Landing t-shirt. It was a post card announcing to Governor Kulongoski that he can "count me as a supporter of Bradwood Landing!"

"Do you know what that is?" I asked the woman.
"What? Um, well, it's something I gotta sign to get free ice cream, I think," smiled the woman.
"Do you know anything about Bradwood Landing?" I asked. She did not.

"Let me help," said the man in the shirt. "Bradwood Landing is for people who care about jobs, and the economy," he said brightly.
"No," I said. "Bradwood Landing is about a huge, burbling, Liquid Natural Gas plant on the once-pristine banks of the Columbia river. No one wants it here."
"Well, that's a matter of opinion," the man said. "There are some differing opinions on that."
"Yes," I said. "The people who live here don't want the plant, but the corporation set to make millions of dollars from ramming it down our throats has a completely different opinion."
The woman who had signed the card wandered off, dipping into the freezer for free ice cream. What could be more important than that, after all?

I have to really, seriously question why my union, of all things, would allow Bradwood Landing to hold their PR stunt at MY LABOR DAY PICNIC. Is nothing sacred? Bradwood Landing is NOT EVEN A UNION SHOP! The best they can claim, as they do on their website, is that they "plan" to hire union construction workers to build the unwanted facility. Sorry, that's not union enough. Do you think, for one moment, that once the plant is built, the workers who labor there will be allowed to unionize? Think again. I can't imagine a more stark illustration of how far unions have come from representing the interests of working people, to representing the status quo. This was really despicable.

If you care about keeping LNGs off your river, by the way, you should probably realize that the company that wants to force it on us has obviously launched a very far-reaching PR campaign. It was bad enough to be hearing their ads on NPR, but finding them salaciously doling out free ice cream in exchange for good will and signatures at a UNION PICNIC was beyond words. So much for solidarity.

unions and politics 02.Sep.2008 10:52


I was at the Labor Day picnic too, and had many of the same reactions concerning the political aspect. But I draw different conclusions. Yes the unions are currently run by bureaucrats, and yes these bureaucrats have interests opposite to the people they "represent", but what do we do about it? I would suggest you educate your co-workers, explain to them what is going on, so that when a labor movement emerges (which it will inevitably), you and your coworkers will be in a better position to toss out the scum that have currently hijacked things.

Could Bush, or someone like Obama, run this country if people were actively engaged in politics. Of course not. But people are only actively engaged in politics in revolutionary times. Let us lay the groundwork for the coming swell: the ruling class is doing it as we speak (forming a police state, etc), we must fight for the opposite cause.