Solidarity in Alabama

Things are looking bad, but just hold on. There’s some good news from liberal prognosticators who’ve been staring into the future. The “relatively conservative white working class” is in decline! Women, Gays, Latinos, Asians, African-Americans, Singles, College Grads, and Digital Henry Fords are all compiling into a demographic wave that only needs one more decade to crest and wash the Tea Party, NRA, Baptists, and Republicans in general into the oblivion of a permanent minority.

Besides the immediate caveats that many Gays, Singles, Latinos et al are themselves rubbing shoulders with whites inside the working class where there are also, believe it or not, people who are actually gay, single, female, white and working class, there’s a further problem with this rosy scenario. It leaves the big storylines and political mechanics about you know, jobs, taxes, benefits, pensions and The Economy to the Right. Yeah, we have a lot of good details about too big to fail, but we’re banking on inclusiveness to pull us up to 51%.

Inclusiveness that includes enough really rich people on our team to subsidize those ever more expensive media campaigns. So be very careful how you craft your criticism of Mitt Romney. Or Jaimie Dimon. Or deregulation. Or the financialization of the economy. The white working class may be in decline. But the white ruling class is on a roll. Ask Bill Clinton. Or Corey Booker.

There is, however, an alternative, and I’ve seen it. It’s small, but it makes imagining a different future possible.

I’m a retired phone company employee and a retired member of the Comunications Workers of America (CWA). The piece of the deregulated Bell System that I was in when I left – Verizon – is the piece I depend on for my pension and retiree medical benefits. Headquartered in the Northeast, Verizon used to have its yearly stockholders meeting in New York or Boston, but as they lost interest in listening to their unionized employees they have moved those yearly meetings ever more far afield. This year’s was in Huntsville, Alabama, at the Werner Von Braun Center.

I flew down from New York City with some other retirees and I will skip the details about how the ridiculous inflation of the CEO’s salary has been combined with demands from highly profitable Verizon for give backs to break the unions. Here’s the interesting part.

Outside the meeting we held a rally in the rain with union members, not just from the CWA, who had driven in from across Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. And a small but actually existing group from Occupy Huntsville. Alabama And Jobs With Justice folks. And vanloads of students from central Florida. Young, old. Black, white. Students, workers.

I have spent most of my life around the professional left and unions and believe that I’m an expert at noticing the difference, without prejudice, between lefty politicos and what used to be called the rank and file. Working stiff union members. I couldn’t find a difference in Huntsville and I haven’t been able to for a while back in New York City.

I also pride myself on being able to distinguish between a noble yet essentially dispirited lefty gathering and a political event with real energy. We had real energy in Huntsville.

Why? Maybe students are realizing that their job prospects are slim and grim as the unionized underpinning that used to hold the professional upper-middle class up is pulled away and we all start sinking. Maybe working people are realizing that young people energized by OWS are the allies in energy and numbers they’ve been searching for. And maybe unions are still the one best institution in a democracy to press the issue of economic justice.

Inside the stockholders meeting us retirees lined up for the Q and A to complain about our frozen pensions and the givebacks demanded from the union over the last year of bargaining. This was after CEO Lowell McAdams finished his report to the three rows of Verizon employees in the front. A report that was continually interrupted by little groups of the OWS students scattered around the audience. Who were then escorted out of the hall by the police.

After the meeting and another rally we were eating lunch and I was talking to another CWA retiree from Georgia, and I suppose that I should add that both of us are white. “The pieces are coming together,” he said. “They’re not together yet, but they’re coming together.”

If you want to check out a three minute video the union made here is the you tube address: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ry0l_7Gnxog. It’s been known to bring tears to the eyes of grown men, and not just mine.

From July, 2012

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