It’s no secret that Republican politicians and the like are generally anti-labor and anti-union. Ever since President Reagan’s famous shunning of the air traffic controllers, the consensus from the right has been to frame union leaders as “thugs,” so when I found out that those attending the Republican National Convention in Tampa were surrounded, quite literally, by union work, my irony meter lit up like a pinball machine.

“We find a way through tough times, and if we can’t find a way then we’ll make one. All that matters now is what’s ahead. How do we come from behind? How do we come together?”

 -Clint Eastwood in Chrysler’s 2012 Super Bowl ad

All eyes may have been on the Red Carpet this past weekend, but the star that everyone is still talking about is Clint Eastwood and his role in Chrysler’s recent Super Bowl commercial. It’s already garnered more than 10 million views and the chatter’s not quieting down. While this wasn’t an ad specifically for unions, the American auto industry often stands as a marker of how well unions are getting along these days.

Watching the news the past few days, I’m seeing student protests at the UCLA campus where I go to school. The same thing is happening at UC Berkeley and other California college campuses. I’m hearing angry students talking about rising tuition, and cuts to education and talk about Occupy Wilshire Blvd, where 11 students were arrested last week.

But I’m a science major, living off campus, so I’m really a step away from all the commotion. Plus, I’m a senior, so I really don’t think all this applies to me. I’m outta here in a year. Even if I do have a part-time job working for LA Labor 411, a union publication, I still don’t see the impact Occupy UCLA has on my life.

Here at LA Labor 411 we have always promoted a vision of American patriotism that goes hand in hand with our message of buying union made, American made. We recently had the opportunity to visit New York City, and take a patriotic – and emotional tour – of the South part of Manhattan, including the new Ground Zero memorial, an area that has come to symbolize so much tragedy, hope and the indomitable human spirit of the American people, as well as the folks at Occupy Wall Street, the pioneers of the 99 percent movement.

We started out at the 9/11 memorial on a beautiful crisp autumn day. Approaching the site, we first see Tower #4 rising high above the sidewalk

“Don’t worry, I’m not gonna hurt nobody. I’m just gonna go down there and get my rights.”

-Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront

 

I love movies. I love good, smart movies. It’s something that’s severely lacking in today’s sequel machine they call Hollywood, so today, I say skip the theater and pick up a good old black-and-white classic, On the Waterfront.

Marlon Brando’s portrayal of a dockworker named Terry Malloy in Elia Kazan’s 1954 masterpiece still holds up today as one of the great performances in all of film. It is a performance that union and non-union workers today should take note of as the embodiment and personification of weathering adversity and standing in solidarity.

Malloy is the quintessential working-class champion.

Halloween is here again and I’m getting the warm fuzzies that only that sugar rush can bring on. 

Best of all, most of the candies handed out on Halloween are union made, so it really is a Union Holiday (Baby Ruth, Butterfinger, Hershey’s Chocolate, Jelly Belly’s, Kit Kat,  Laffy Taffy, Mike and Ikes, Smarties, Tootsie Rolls, etc.) You can get a complete list of union-made candy by clicking here.

There’s no doubt Halloween has now become one of the most revered American holidays — especially for kids who adore the sugar free-for-all. Children marvel at the pounds of    candy they are able to collect, the costumes, and the culture that has developed around the holiday. Even adults are getting into the holiday these days. And college students, always looking for a reason to celebrate, have become just as enthusiastic and competitive as the kids are.

In my real life, I’m a senior at UCLA, studying science. But my part time gig is as the web editor of Labor 411. You wouldn’t think it, but sometimes the two really can collide. For instance, last week I was studying for a math midterm with my friend Samantha. After 3 hours of hitting the books, we were dizzy from equations and decided to take a break and went for a bite to eat.

Over lunch, we started talking about our families. Turns out her dad was a UAW union representative. I looked at her in disbelief. What a coincidence. Two science majors at UCLA and we have labor parents in common.  She gave me a very confused look and asked, “Did I say something wrong?” I started laughing and said, “you’re not going to believe this, but what a small world! My mom has been a union activist for over 20 years now and this past summer I was the co-project manager of the directory, LA Labor 411.”

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” 

-Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Everyone has that mental image of a protest in their mind; people standing on a street corner holding home-made signs and chanting in the name of some injustice. The Occupy Wall Street movement that has spread throughout the country like a wildfire certainly has its messages scrawled on pizza boxes, but as I approached the scene at Cesar Chavez Park in downtown Sacramento, I realized instantly that something was different about this campaign. 

It was the permanence of it all.

Ever walk into a stranger’s house and there is sort of an unnerving sensation of being in someone else’s nest, with its foreign scents and disquieting aura. I felt as though I had just intruded upon someone’s home when I stepped into that park.  Tents were pitched, a food table supported a massive bag of bagels and occupiers stood talking with one another, while some stooped to compose their latest message in bright displays only children’s chalk can provide.

College is a place where young minds come to be filled with grand ideas of worldly importance. Where intellect is sharpened and individuals are molded to enter the world as working adults. Unfortunately, in recent years, a college degree that once gave you a leg up from the competition, now merely keeps you afloat in the drowning American economy. Not too long ago, a college degree set you right into the job market with a good occupation and a fair wage. In this day and age, those that graduate college are not guaranteed anything of the sort.

“If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool.”

President Abraham Lincoln

Let’s be honest. I’m new to the labor movement and feel that as a reporter with a new beat, I have to tread lightly. I’ve read quite a few news stories on union activities and lots of information from the labor unions themselves, but finally I got a first-hand taste of that camaraderie that is so often touted on protest signs across the country.

I was assigned to interview union members about the value of union products for our Labor 411 directory at our recent Union Trade Show in September in Los Angeles. I was impressed. To a person, they responded with a genuine sense of caring for the cause, and for America.

There was a time when as a college student I saw picket lines and protests (and not just by union members) as little more than a photo op for certain causes. People waving signs simply because that was what they were told they needed to do to promote the movement; a kind of means to an end. This is the cynical attitude that often pervades my life and it was hard to believe any emotion other than anger drove such demonstrations.