Recycled and Updated
Happy Labor Day!
Happy Labor Day!
My Zaydeh was a paperhanger. So was his son, my uncle. They belonged to the Paperhanger's Union. When he retired, my Zaydeh got a lapel pin and a photograph of himself and the also-retiring Union Rep. The Union Rep got a pension and health insurance. No one knows if he got a copy of the photograph, too.
It was that kind of complicated relationship to Labor, with a capital L, that dominated my growing up years. Daddooooo's father owned a business. G'ma's father was a worker. That dynamic influenced their relationship in the same way that her parents' accented speech and his parents' religious devotion were there, bruising the edges of what must once have been love but wasn't anymore.
On the one hand, I sat on my Zaydeh's shoulders as he bounced me around the living room, singing Zum Gali Gali, a Zionist work song. When I needed a biography for a book report in second grade, his daughter, my mother, suggested Eugene Debs. I was the only one in the class who wrote about the Wobblies, who knew that, before Bernie Sanders, a Socialist, a man who understood the plight of the working man, ran for President from prison.
There was a sense that he was on the right side of an argument I didn't know we were having.
On the other hand, Daddooooo inherited his father's bridal shop, working alongside his brother and the cutters and pressers and seamstresses he'd known his entire life. He took care of the girls, the worker bees, the ones who created what he tried to sell. He struggled to make a success, and failed, and among those he held accountable were the Union Guys.
He was unable to make a go of a business he'd rather not have owned. He was living a life unlike that which he'd imagined in college. It was not making him happy, nor was it paying the oil bill. The generalized angst was unassailable; the Union Guys were real.
Yet I knew that we needed unions - the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire proved that protections were necessary and that management had no interest in protecting the welfare of the worker. Without collective action, nothing could be achieved. I was still the 8 year old in love with Eugene V. Debs.
Those feelings didn't seem incompatible with the boss's daughter piece of me, the one who loved seeing her Daddy's name on the showroom door. The ladies did piece-work, but always had time to smile and chatter at me... in Italian. The cutter, an imposing fellow with a gigantic pair of scissors, shared a small corner of his even more gigantic table with me, as I worked beside them, trimming lace, doing idiot work in my father's parlance, completely content, with a foot on each side of the divide.
G'ma told me stories of her parents marching in Solidarity Parades, though never when Daddooooo was around to hear. Daddooooo railed about union bullies, but rarely in G'ma's presence.
The battle between labor and management, waged, silently, over my kitchen table.