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[personal|politics] Informing opinions - Lakeshore
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Jay Lake
Date: 2012-04-11 05:43
Subject: [personal|politics] Informing opinions
Security: Public
Tags:family, personal, politics, texas, travel
I have a good friend back in Austin, Texas, who happens to be quite conservative. He's an intelligent, humane, reasonable guy, and a lot of fun, and except for this minor character defect is really someone I like and admire a lot. I once asked him why he was conservative. His answer was fascinating.

"When I was a kid," he said, "I asked my mom why we were Republicans. She told me it was because the Democrats wanted to take away our money and give it other people." (His parents were, and I suppose still are, small businesspeople who owned one or two restaurants.)

In a sense, that conversation set his opinions for life. He's spent the years since amassing logical reasons to be a Republican, but there's an emotional core underneath it all that's woven into the fabric of who he is.

Me, I'm a bad liberal in at least one important sense. I'm very uncomfortable with the power of unions. Now, before you jump all over me, let me state that as a thinking adult it's perfectly clear to me that unions have been a very important force in bettering the working lives of all Americans, and that such power as they ever had has long been gutted by decades of conservatives campaigning both at the legislative level as well as down in the trenches of dirty tricks and media smears. Millions of conservative Americans who would be appalled at giving up their weekends and paid vacations don't recognize that the only reason they have those things in the first place is because of union activism.

Yet in my case, two childhood events set me with a prejudice that I carry to this day. One, when i was nine years old, in 1973, we were back in the U.S. on home leave from Taiwan. Mom and Dad drove us across the country on a combination of vacation and various family visits. This concluded with a couple of days in southern California to visit Seaworld and Disneyland. We made it to Disneyland just fine, but the day we went to Seaworld the park was closed due to a strike.

It's not like we could just come back another day. We'd traveled halfway around the world to be there, and were about to travel halfway around the world to go home again. At the time I didn't know anything about labor relations or union contracts or working conditions. All I knew was that a union strike kept me away from something I never did get to do.

Fast forward to 1981, me in high school, thinking pretty seriously about going to college to study drama from the backstage side and head for a career in technical theater. I thought it would be pretty cool to be a stage manager on Broadway someday. Our high school's resident technical director (we had one of those and two theatrical directors at Choate at the time) pulled me aside one day and explained that I could study drama all I wanted, but I'd probably never work in New York because I wouldn't be able to get into the union. You had to pass a test, see, and the test was graded by standards that weren't publicly disclosed. This made sure that the sons and nephews of union members could get in, even with lousy scores, while outsiders and other people the union guys disliked didn't stand a chance no matter how well they performed on the tests.

To this day, I don't actually know if that was true, then or now. I do know that at the time I believed my TD, and went looking for other dreams, because a closed union shop with arbitrary admissions rules meant I couldn't follow the dream I had.

Logical? No. But those two events left me with a lifelong distrust of unions that I have to do conscious work to overcome.

I wonder how many of us liberals and conservatives, religious and atheist/agnostic, nationalist and internationalists, how many of us had those beliefs informed by early experience and the reinforced by a lifetime of selective learning and listening?

Sometimes, when I think about this carefully, it gives me real pause. After all, how do you talk to someone in a lateral way about something they believe down in their bones?

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Chris McKitterick: can't take the sky from me
User: mckitterick
Date: 2012-04-11 13:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:can't take the sky from me
It's little incidents like these that shape the rest of our lives. Sane people get radicalized by the smallest things sometimes.
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springfield40
User: springfield40
Date: 2012-04-11 13:59 (UTC)
Subject: One of the huge reasons the social differences can be so daunting
Never posted before but this is something I agree with.

I live in the South and I know many conservatives and deal with them fairly well as long as they dont go to the crazy place.
I know many of them have their ideas from ideas they got from parents etc. I also know some of them would be upset if they realized the extent to where they sometimes go and there are alot of conservatives who dont get how far they could end up going.
I dont think they would like what they would get.

Another side idea on unions, my grandpa was in the mail unions in the 30s to the 50s and he really didnt see the good of them so while unions do a lot of good it really all is the balance of them with other social processes
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Erik Amundsen
User: cucumberseed
Date: 2012-04-11 14:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Kay-Bee was where I went to get toys when I was little, and a place where I was forced to work briefly, during dark times. Even if I had any inclination to vote Republican, that would probably keep me from ever voting for Romney.
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Twilight: Daria
User: twilight2000
Date: 2012-04-11 14:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Daria
Worse yet? Your tech theatre teacher lied to you (or was lied to and just passed it on) - I know all sorts of folks who joined IATSE (tech theatre union) without issue. If you could do the work, you got in. You also didn't have to go to NY to do it. Most of my friends in the unions are out here.

But even with all of that - the fact is, unions gave us the only argument we had against Big Companies that expected us to work 12 hour days, 7 days a week, sick or not. Let's remember that part too.
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dionysus1999
User: dionysus1999
Date: 2012-04-11 15:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My father was in the UAW his whole life, retired after 36 years. His main beef with the unions (he's relatively conservative) was that it protected incompetent workers at the expense of good workers.

I think size and membership of any group has an effect on it's members. Seems like the larger a group gets the more bureaucracy it creates and the less it connects with the "common" member. Top heavy organizations seem to lose perspective and even their main mission can become subverted. Wonder if that's what's happening to the NRA, with their conservative "outreach" efforts.
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chris_gerrib
User: chris_gerrib
Date: 2012-04-11 15:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Any organization can get too powerful. I think for a long time that the UAW was too powerful, and hurting the car industry. It wasn't until the more recent contracts of the early 2000s that they backed off.
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fledgist
User: fledgist
Date: 2012-04-11 16:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've had three elective offices in my life (I'm in one now as chair of my department). One of them was as a shop steward. My great achievement was getting a continuous two-day "weekend" for my bargaining unit. Sitting in on workplace committees, and on labour negotiations gave me a real sense of how important the union was for my rights as a worker, and an appreciation for what economic democracy ought to be.
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fjm
User: fjm
Date: 2012-04-11 16:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I grew up as a "union maid" but at the same time, as a woman and a Jew, I saw how very conservative and restrictive unions could be. At a panel at Eastercon this weekend, I and Adam Roberts had some very forceful things to say to the person who thought unions intrinsically radical.
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Kari Sperring
User: la_marquise_de_
Date: 2012-04-11 17:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes, this is my experience too: I come from a leftwing activist family. My great-grandfather was a union martyr. I believe in them strongly. But I also know how they can be reactionary, anti-woman, xenophobic, conservative. We need them, as part of the mechanisms that protect the weak from the strong, but they aren't the whole answer.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2012-04-11 16:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Hmmm.

I grew up in Greenwich Village and spent my first ten years of school at Little Red School House ("where all the little Reds went...") and learned songs like "Joe Hill" and "Which Side Are You On" in the same music class as "Kumbaya" and "Where Have All The Flowers Gone." I believe that unions are important. On the other hand, I believe that, like any organization, power corrupts, and organizational memory may be short. There's a dark side and a light side.

The Spouse used to be brought in occasionally to do sound on "Saturday Night Live" for performers he'd recorded or worked with in concert. But he wasn't a union member, so all he could do was sit next to the union member and tell him what the sound cues were. And hope the guy would actually listen, because he was forbidden to touch the console himself. That's the dark side.

The light side: better hours, health care, safety...etc.

I still don't understand how my brother and I, raised in the same household, attending the same schools, could have turned out to be polar opposites on the political scale. I'm a slightly sloppy, sentimental, but fervent liberal; he's a somewhat amused, relatively tolerant conservative. The schism may have something to do with religion (we were raised by wolves: he's Evangelical Christian; I'm Unitarian Universalist), but I also think it may have something to do with our personalities.

Go figure.

Madeleine (away from my home computer)
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Peter Isaac Blanton: Sprague
User: daedalus_x
Date: 2012-04-11 17:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Sprague
I get that. My father votes Republican in no small part because he's been told all his life that Democrats are out to get his guns (he's a gun collector and has been all his life). Doesn't matter that a lot of Democrats like guns, and many who don't wouldn't try to ban them because of either the Bill of Rights or because it's politically too hazardous. He knows that Democrats are out to get the guns because that's what he's been told all his life, and so he often votes against Democrats even when it's to his disadvantage in other things.
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theresamather
User: theresamather
Date: 2012-04-11 17:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The odd thing living in a very conservative state (Utah) is that everyone says they want to keep their money, but the state pays so little in to the national tax base because of large families and low wages statewide that Utah ends up taking far more from the feds and hence taxpayers of other states than it pays in. Most of the pork guzzling states that are a net drain on the national piggy bank are red states.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-04-11 17:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Most low-tax red staters seem utterly unaware that their net share of the tax burden is highly in their favor, and that they are being subsidized by the liberal, coastal powerhouses they claim to despise.

You see the same effect in state politics in places like New York and Washington/Oregon, where the vast majority of tax revenues comes from the large, liberal urban centers and heavily underwrites the extensive rural areas of those states, yet rural conservatives actively resent being the "wallet" for the big city liberals in all defiance of actual fiscal reality.
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andelku
User: andelku
Date: 2012-04-11 22:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I was an actors equity candidate and I had plenty of friends in IATSE and SAG. What a load of crap that guy told you! Union membership can be hard to get because you need some way of earning credits toward membership. But it's not rigged the way he describes! And plenty of people work in non-Equity theater their entire careers.
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Danny Adams
User: madwriter
Date: 2012-04-12 02:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I know exactly where you're coming from. I feel ambivalent about unions as well--I had bad experiences, and know plenty of people who did also, with them. (On the other hand I'm aware of the benefits, too, and my father's side of the family, residents of Appalachia since before there was a United States, have plenty of union-busting stories.)

But I'm also the same way about guns. I appreciate all the arguments in favor of gun control, but on the flip side, at the age of 22 I was spared being taken as a hostage by a felon on the run by the simple fact that he knew my roommate owned a 9 mm automatic.

I also agree with your larger implied point: That a lot of people might not necessarily be so against the things they're against if they realized the benefits they were getting from said things. This was the impetus for me writing an LJ entry (that turned into a local newspaper editorial) where I told folks that if they really think they're anti-environmentalist, they ought to lobby to have their local zoning regulations eliminated and see how much they like the results.
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emmainfiniti
User: emmainfiniti
Date: 2012-04-14 14:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"I wonder how many of us liberals and conservatives, religious and atheist/agnostic, nationalist and internationalists, how many of us had those beliefs informed by early experience and the reinforced by a lifetime of selective learning and listening?"
This is a very profound question to ponder.
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mmegaera
User: mmegaera
Date: 2012-04-15 23:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My -- mostly liberal -- political beliefs make my mother wonder how I got them (she's firmly conservative). I like to think I was sensible enough to reject my conservative upbringing, but she's as much as told me she thinks something or someone must have gotten hold of me and brainwashed me [wry g].

As for unions, I used to work for city government (public library) and was a member of AFSCME. We had the personnel director from Hell. If it hadn't been for the union, we'd all have been seriously screwed, and the citizens of our fair city would have had incredibly awful library service. It's not just union members who benefit from unions, even if said unions can be pretty messed up.

OTOH, before library school I worked as a proofreader (ads, not articles) at the last non-union newspaper chain in northern California in the early 80s, where my salary almost doubled in three years because they were trying so hard to keep the union out. I was young and naive at the time and had no clue, but the money was really nice...
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