- The Latest
from the Appalseed Newsletter January, 1993
When my usual form of airborne transportation, US Air, when on strike this last fall it was, thankfully, a short interruption of their normally fine service. It caused a lot of schedule juggling but, luckily, all my commitments were kept. The juggling resulted not so much out of canceled flights but because, like a lot of people, I won't cross a picket line.
When Bruce Springsteen (for whom I have a great deal of respect and affection) crossed a picket line in Tacoma, Washington this fall  to perform a concert he finally legitimately earned his moniker "The Boss." This long-time champion of unionized workers displayed shocking ignorance when he said, "I just didn't want to get involved." In fact, anytime someone crosses a picket line they have immediately become involved. They've thrown their lot in with the company. If that's one's intention, fine. But most folks just don't know what a picket line means so I thought I'd offer my own insights.
In most labor disputes these days management holds all the cards. Unions have been substantially weakened by dwindling membership, hostile legislation, and, especially the last dozen years or so, by Presidents openly bent on destroying the rights of workers to organize. When it is absolutely legal for a company to hire permanent replacement workers and unemployment affords a large, desperate pool of such replacements what power does the average Joe or Jane have to guarantee their respect and livelihood? Many people have been brought up with "union" defined as a corrupt fat-cat driving to a lunch with the mob in a stretch limo. Who do you think painted that picture for us? Out in the trenches: on the factory floor, in the office, in the fields "union" means those people who teach the kids, who deliver the mail, who drive the trucks, who enter the data, who clean the hotel rooms, who sing the songs, who make the paper you're holding in your hand. It's like saying the United States is the people of this land rather than merely the leaders that are so often (too often!) the only view many people around the world get of us.
When people who work together have a disagreement they deserve the right to settle it on an even playing field. When workers go on strike...I know from many, many examples in my own experience...it is never an easy decision and is never arrived at lightly. No one likes a strike: not the company, not the workers, and not the public. When a company can neutralize a strike by immediately hiring replacements how does that achieve an "even playing field?" Workers have no source of power but the ability to withhold their labor from the company. The refusal, by a third party, to cross a picket line is not a vote in favor of the union. It's an admission that you believe in the right of disputing parties to settle a disagreement on their own. When someone does not cross a picket line only then is he or she "not getting involved."
I know I'm going to get flooded with letters from people who disagree with me on this point...but please save your time and postage. Not all companies are "bad guys" and not all unions are right 100% of the time. But the next time you have an argument with someone and a third party butts in where you don't think they belong remember that picket line...