Thanks to former president Ronald Reagan and Republicans, many of you no longer remember unions. Maybe your only thought of unions is how someone in your family had to join a union in order to have their job. Maybe you think all the protection you need as a worker is supplied to you by law. If you have any protection by law, it’s because someone sometime fought and died for your rights as a worker.
My parents were laborers. After my dad died when my sister was not quite two years old and I was seven, Mom returned to factory work to support us. She worked for Rawlings Sporting Goods in Newburg, Missouri when the factory was the biggest game in town. At first, she was on piece work, which was good for her because she was fast and accurate and soon made what the factory owners considered way too much money. They switched her to different work. They tried to make her a floor lady on salary, but Mom would never be a boss. She didn’t trust them.
Mom was one of the organizers of the union when the factory went out on strike. I was twelve that summer. I not only watched my six-year-old sister all day, but I also babysat the five kids next door for five dollars a week. That money would pay for school clothes for me and my sister that year, as the factory workers were paid nothing for all the weeks they were striking. Life for the strikers was dangerous as the owners tried to break their strike, but for all the kids, it was kind of fun. We ate our meals “down at the factory,” meaning we gathered at picnic tables set up in the shade on the bank of the creek that ran alongside the factory. Families shared food in order that none of us went hungry. I fondly remember the sheet cakes Geneva made, which were iced in frosting flavored with Kool-Aid.
The union won that strike, and Mom became president of the local, a position she held for twenty-two years. Everyone was guaranteed regular breaks, fair wages, and paid overtime. And every worker happily paid union dues for those guarantees. And Rawlings did not go broke, by the way.
Hats off today for the workers who fought for the rights and safety of workers. #herestoyoumom