Now? Now I just laugh when people tell me they don’t like Unions. I’m 72 years old. I’m Wisconsin born and bred. All I can do is laugh.
I know my history. Taught history for 32 years in the Beloit Public Schools. Followed the seasons from the chalk dust smells of September to the lazy, summer afternoons in June when the average child’s attention span is about a minute and a half. Been around long enough to have seen a bit of history and I read enough to know that I really don’t know all that much.
But I do know unions.
And telling me you don’t like unions is like telling me you don’t like it when the working people, not the rich people, but the working people, join together to take care of each other.
Course then you have to go on. And that’s fine. One thing I learned down through my years is that some people can only learn if they are talking. So you just go ahead and talk. Tell me right now. Tell me here in my little rooms here across the street from the park. The little home David and I shared, across 50 snow wild and windy winters right here on the border between Illinois and Wisconsin. Tell me about all the evils done by the unions. Tell me how there have been lying, cheating, greedy pig men---and you ever notice we are most always talking about men here, cept for that awful teachers union lady in Chicago, there have been the worst of the worst running unions. Stomping on the fingers of the little guy in ways that would make a Koch brother smile. Or at least make him send a check off to support an orchestra for a year or two.
Tell me that and I’ll tell you I know.
Tell me that there is no reason for a union if a place is well run.
I’ll tell you I know.
Then throw up your hands, just like the kids in my class used to do, and ask me in that 'why doesn’t this grown up understand anything' tone of voice. I can hear my kids speaking in that tone right now. They’d say, “Mrs. LaFollette? I don’t understand. How can you still like unions?”
That’s when I’d say something like, “Well, here’s a little secret. Promise not to tell? Cause in some circles, this is really radical.”
Kids would listen for just one second. But I’d grab that second and squeeze it hard, cause it’s in that second that you just might get someone to think differently about something. Doesn’t happen often. But when it does, it’s the magic moment.
So I’d continue with this, “Guess what class? I like churches too!”
“Churches!! They would show me faces of horror. Or nods confirming that the old bat history teacher has lost it this time for sure.
“Churches? More wars, harm, horror and evil have been done by churches than, well I don’t know. . .”
“Then the other Koch brother?”
“Still lost in the absurdity of what I believed, they would often be speechless. So I’d take that second and say, “A church can be a horrible place. In so very many ways. It can shut you out colder than the meanest winter wind. But it can also be a bunch of people joining together to figure out things that are bigger than they are. Things like, how do we do good?”
And they’d be quiet for a minute. Just for a minute.
So I’d say this about the unions. I’d tell the kids, The union is a way for a bunch of people to be stronger by sticking together.
“Mrs. LaFollette?” I remember once one of my kids asked me, “Were you a hippie?”
“Well if you mean did I have my fun? You bet I did. If you don’t know the word ‘idealist’ you will. And you’ll look back some day and you’ll think, that crazy lady history teacher. She was an idealist. Yeah that’s it. She didn’t understand the way the world works. Unions just drive up costs. And we have a budget deficit! So we can’t drive up costs. So that governor who wants to bust the unions? He’s on the right track.”
And I’ll tell you the same thing again. A union is a way for a bunch of people to be stronger by sticking together. And if all you can tell me is “Hey old lady, you are an idealist!” I’d say, “How we gonna get to where we want to be if we can’t say where we’re going?”
Now, class? Lets see a show of hands? How many of us are AGAINST a bunch of people wanting to be stronger by sticking together?
And after I’d tell ‘um that there would be quiet for awhile. Just like its quiet now. Now that its just me.
By the time you read this, it’s likely that we’ll all know whether that horrible, horrible union busting governor got recalled. If he does get recalled, well, I’ll be fine.
But if he’s allowed to stay? My pension from my years of service is all I have. This guy takes it away from me? Then I guess he really is the kind of guy who would toss an old school teacher out of her rooms and on to the street.
Reminds me of that song that singer mailman fella from Oak Lawn Illinois wrote, that John Prine. When he sang;
You know that old trees just grow stronger
Old rivers grow wilder every day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say
Hello in there
Yeah, if we all vote to let that union buster keep his job? Well, I guess we got no one to blame but ourselves. And this idea of people sticking together to look out for each other, this idea will have just taken a hammer to the head.
What will I do if it turns out that the union buster wins? And he starts chipping away at the little trickle of all I have? And I lose my rooms here on Park Avenue in Beloit?
Oh I don’t know. Course I still have my bicycle. You know, I remember, when June would come around? The kids in my classes would get all dreamy eyed, and they wouldn’t be the only ones.
After school, I’d hop on my bike, and as the late afternoon sun baked the tar on the endless blacktop shimmering country roads that swirled through the corn fields, I’d go riding. And when I’d ride those blacktop roads and smell summer come to bake all my troubles into the dust of other times, sometimes I’d think about my Grand Dad. They called him Fighting Bob. Fighting Bob LaFollette. And when people talked about Wisconsin? They’d talk about him.
And sometimes, when the prairie wind would come rustle warm through the cornfields, sometimes when it was just the right moment, I’d hold my breath just for a moment and I could hear his voice. I’d be nine years old again and I’d hear Fighting Bob whispering just like he’d want every one to hear, I’d hear him say, “You just keep fighting Little Girl. You just keep fighting and remember, that you are not alone.”