Beneath a gleaming, golden cascade of summer sunshine outside the UPS building in the Albany suburb of Latham, Frank Carney was talking about the elderly lady who showed up last week during a cloudburst.
Frank Carney and his brothers in Teamsters Local 294 were picketing in the downpour. The lady, aged 87, had taken them a thermos of coffee. For a few hours, she even walked the line with the strikers.
Frank Carney is the Teamsters’ shop steward at UPS. He asked her if she had a relative on strike. No, the lady said. She’d just read about the strike in the newspaper. She wanted to help, was all.
Frank Carney and his brothers were still out there Tuesday afternoon, taking shelter from the sun beneath a blue-tarped tent and awaiting word from the international union in Washington to stand down.
But they figured to be back on the job the next morning, the first clear winners in a big national strike in this country in more than a decade.
When the Teamsters walked out on UPS 15 days earlier, you’d have expected the public to side with the company. After all, union membership in this country is down to 10 percent of the private sector work force. And UPS is a popular organization. It performs the worthy task of keeping the U.S. Postal Service on its toes.
Moreover, the Teamsters are not exactly America’s most admired labor organization. Frank Fitzsimmons, Jackie Presser and Tony Provanzano were among the most corrupt thugs ever to stalk a union hall. The very name - Teamsters - evokes images of garroted corpses in concrete shoes dumped into rivers to sleep with the fishes.
From the start, though, the people were with the Teamsters. CNN and Gallup reported only 27 percent public support for UPS and 55 percent for the union that gave us Jimmy Hoffa.
There’s a reason for that. This strike illustrated vividly the growing gulf between working people and owner/managers. It was a microcosm of the shattered covenant between the American proprietor and the American worker.
UPS wanted to maintain a huge part-time work force to boost profits. The Teamsters wanted full-time jobs so members could earn enough to support families. And with bankruptcies running at record levels - more than a million of them last year, one American in 250 scratching out too little to survive - a beleaguered working public identified with the strikers in this fight.
Sure, the Dow is bullish. By every measure, the economy is booming. Every measure but one, that is. Wages have not kept pace. Wages are pitiful.
This is a great economy if you own stock or live on profit-based bonus bucks. It’s a wretched economy if you’re a salaried employee or hourly worker.
In adjusted dollars, the American worker has slid downward for years now. People know that. That’s why they backed the Teamsters.
A century ago, a gutsy politician redefined the relationship between business and the public. Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, pushed regulation - which embodied trust-busting, workplace safety and child labor laws, which were followed by a graduated income tax and, later, environmental enforcement.
Yes, there was and is excess regulation. But, encumbered by all these profit-pillaging limitations, American business nonetheless proceeded to produce 100 years of riches beyond imagination - a fair share of which filtered down for most of those decades into the ranks of workers.
Riches that produced a stable, prosperous nation of consumers and taxpayers.
Now, however, the tiny politicians of our time stand mute and seemingly helpless before the ever-worsening plight of working Americans. It’s the global economy, you understand. Companies must remain competitive.
Sorry, life is a bitch.
What, I wonder, might old TR say about that attitude?
See opposing view written by Jeff Jacoby under the headline: Triumph vs. Travesty
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