Indiana, “right to work” laws, and “Power in a Union” – Fridays with Billy

This week, my neighboring state of Indiana became a “Right to Work” state — which sounds oddly like it’s now a better place to work, rather than part of a larger, nation-wide effort to gut unions and strip away the rights that the labor movement has battled for decades to establish (and from which we all benefit, whether or not we are union members – as but one example: Planning to enjoy a two-day weekend this week? Thank a union).

Are unions perfect vessels of workers’ better angels? No. Nothing humanity does is. But I figure unions are an awful lot like democracy: A terrible mess that is immeasurably better than anything else on offer.

My great-grandfather Carl (married to great-grandma Emily) was a union organizer in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and I have never felt anything but deepest pride in that fact. It breaks my heart that working men and women are having to fight so hard to hold on to, or entirely re-establish, the kinds of rights that I’m sure he wanted to see made permanent — such as the simple right to organize, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 23, sec 4).

And so, given the ongoing assault on workers’ rights (Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, anyone?), it’s time to allow my beloved Billy Bragg to be his most rabble-rousing socialist self, and remind us that there is, indeed, power in a union.

Which is precisely why the right doesn’t want unions to survive.

Now I long for the morning that they realise
Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
But who’ll defend the workers who cannot organise
When the bosses send their lackies out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child
There is power in a Union.

full lyrics;What is Fridays with Billy?

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The perils of kindness.

Last night, sitting at my desk, trying to write a book review, I finally just burst into tears.

The book deals with Israel/Palestine, and the many brave and noble people attempting to find a path to true peace and genuine justice, and it comes on the heels of two other books that dealt with what amounts to the same subject matter — and last night’s book and the earlier two came at either end of days and days in which I was dealing quite intensely, in my writing and in my heart, with the topic of rape (a couple of times on this blog, on and on at Twitter, and elsewhere across the wilds and in the corners of the blogosphere), while all the while, people living across a swath of the world that holds a place very deep in my soul are being shot at from their own fighter jets and by their own police forces. And the public employees in some quarters of this country — teachers, for God’s sake! — find themselves faced with the possibility of losing their freedom to ever collectively organize again. And at some point I discovered that a (male) blogger had accused me (specifically) and other women bloggers of “raping” Lara Logan by choosing to use the story of her assault as a reason to write about rape. And then an earthquake in New Zealand….

What finally reduced me to tears was a good friend being kind.

In this case, the good friend happens to be a truly, genuinely lovely person who has spent his life telling the truth about Israel/Palestine, and the one clear thought I could get to (as I read his completely unrelated email and cried) was: How can the world still suck so hard, when there are such beautiful people in it?

I’m tired. I’m tired of the world sucking and of beautiful people dedicating themselves and their lives and all too often their deaths to trying to heal a world that still sucks. I’m tired of the ever-peeling layers of suckage — after all, just under “pro-democracy protests turn violent in the Middle East,” you’ll find “well-founded fears of chaos,” “well-founded fears of military takeover,” and “well-founded fears of economic collapse and further human suffering.” Under which, of course, you will also find “Lara Logan was brutally assaulted and more than 80% of Egyptian woman complain of constant harassment and women are raped everywhere, anyway.” Under which you will find… many other things that I cannot bear to think about right now.

It matters not that I’m tired. Not really. Despair and exhaustion are luxuries, and I already live in the lap of luxury.

But I confess that I have found it easier to not know over much about about Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and Iran, or Wisconsin and Indiana over the past 24-48 hours (oh, and Ohio. Where apparently someone decided it would be a good idea to lock the people out of their own statehouse) — or even of New Zealand, where, after all, it’s not the sucky people, it’s the sucky tectonic plates we have to thank for the wave of grief and sorrow now washing over a nation. It feels wrong to admit this. I confess that, too.

I’m going to the J Street Conference this weekend, and I think that will have to count as my good deed for the next week. Me being tired doesn’t matter — but me crying doesn’t help.  I think it’ll be helpful to go hang out in a room full of compulsive do-gooders for a couple of days.