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Bud's Beat

Union movement was turbulent during the 1930s
By: Bud Pisarek, Loomis News Correspondent
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I can remember it vividly. The dark overcast sky, the row upon row of windows of the tall gray factory building. Leaping red and orange flames amid white puffs of smoke coming from the big barrels where fires were kept going to provide some warmth against the early winter weather. The scene was one of many across the industrial areas of Milwaukee, my boyhood home town. The gathering of workers, now called strikers, was necessary to persuade management to provide for a living wage. Strike breakers, called goons, were reportedly from Chicago and there to disrupt the picketing. The most violent disruptions usually occurred at the shift change when “scabs” (that’s what they were called) crossed picket lines. I witnessed several of these scenes, peering from the back seat of my father’s 1926 Whippet. The entire family — including my four siblings and our mother — watched the action from a few blocks down the street as my dad took his turn carrying the “ON STRIKE” sign. Pa would come back to the car about every half-hour to get a cup of hot coffee from the Thermos that Ma cradled in her lap. Sometimes he had bruises, welts, and even blood stains on his forehead and arms. When she asked him why he was doing this he pointed to us five kids in the rear seat and said, “That’s why.” I remember those moments and Pa’s passion and determination for the workers’ cause(s). He took his lumps and, thankfully, he and his fellow workers won their battle for decent wages and rights. Today, after benefitting from those early union pioneers, the union movement has been curtailed. Since the 1980s, management has successfully eroded the gains those union organizers earned. The U.S. Congress will soon be involved in giving workers their hard-earned historical rights to form unions. The bill has been penned the Employees Free Choice Act (EFCA). Because of the change in administrations and the shift of Congressional power to the Democrats, the bill has a chance to succeed. Corporate America is poised to fight EFCA. Already sides have been formed and salvos have been launched. A public relations exec has labeled the bill a political nightmare and a public disaster. On the other side of the coin, supporters are saying EFCA will restore workers rights to organize into unions to then bargain with corporate chiefs for fair wages. Voters, in the meantime, are saying, “Wasn’t that settled back in the 1930s?” More next week.