Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why We Need The Unions: My Dad's Story

By Dale Bowling

This is an American Story. It's about an American who started out humbly, but worked his way through life and bettered himself, but he wasn't alone.  He had the Union. He was my father.

My father was born in the 1940s deep in the Appalachian mountains. He was the eighth of ten children. The only jobs around were farming if you could get the land and coal mining.

It was a tough life. My dad used to tell that they could see the daylight between the clapboards of their house. My father's father eeked out a living between farming and coal mining until he contracted TB. Then, my grandfather couldn't work in the mines anymore and his boys took over the land they leased.

They raised all their own food on that land. The only things they bought were sugar and coffee. The Bowling boys plowed those rocky hollows with mules. Mert and Roadie were the mules' names and my father talked about them often, with great affection. It was not easy work - especially since they were children. The Bowling family ground their own corn into meal for cornbread. They planted a huge garden. They ate every part of the pig, "but the squeal" as my dad used to say. Tails, ears, faces: they couldn't afford to waste any of it.

My father quit school at sixteen. As he saw it, there wasn't any point in continuing. There were no jobs for high school graduates there anyway.

But his older brother had fought in WWII and the time in the Navy had taught him that not everyone lived in such dire poverty. When Dad's older brother got back to the States, he moved north and all the little brothers including my father followed. Dad met my mother, a student nurse when he was working as an orderly at a hospital there. They married and moved back to her home town.

It so happened that there was a factory there and my father got a job on the line. He didn't have an education or skills. It was that time in American history where all you had to have was a good pair of hands and you were welcome. He joined the Union and he worked and worked.

With decent pay and benefits like he never imagined, he and my mother raised a family. They were a middle-class American family.  He was the first of all his siblings to own a color TV. He was proud of that.

When the opportunity arose, my father took a correspondence course to learn some engineering and mechanical skills. He then moved from the line to maintenance. Better pay and better lifestyle.

The Union provided great medical benefits. Those medical benefits ultimately found my father's tumor before it became life threatening.

Without that routine exam provided by the Union, he probably would have gone on for ages not knowing he had cancer.

He had two surgeries. They saved his life. Those surgeries were provided by the medical benefits that the Union had fought so hard for.

My father lived another twenty years, thanks in no small part to the Union. He died a few months ago. My mother has relied on the Union's legal services to sort out all the issues surrounding his death. She is very diligent and on top of things, but she says she still can't imagine how she would do this without the Union's legal services.

As it turns out, Union's legal services have been eliminated as of next year. It was part of the concessions that the Union made to management in exchange for union jobs staying in this country.

My parents saw me attend an Ivy League University. I never could have done that without the Union. They could never had raised a middle class family without the Union. They could never have achieved the American Dream without the Union.

I look at all the kids coming up in this country, I wonder, "how many of these kids aren't going to get the opportunities that I did because Republicans broke the unions?" How many of those kids are not going to get to grow up with their fathers because the Union had to barter away the medical benefits bit by bit just to keep the jobs here. Lots probably.

I hear about Unions being greedy and wanting the world and all I have to say is that is not true. The fact that workers live a middle class lifestyle at all is because the Unions fought for that. We all owe them an enormous debt. My kids owe them the most maybe and they'll grow up in an America where the Unions don't have their backs.

Heaven help them.

So I want to thank all Unions in this Great Country for what you've done for the American people and honestly, what you've done for me. You helped countless people achieve the American Dream. If we waited for companies to do this voluntarily, we'd still be waiting. Thank you, Unions! Thank you.

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