I don’t know why I feel like telling this story now, but I do; it’s the story of a moment–an instant–in my life that I look back on with intense pleasure.
It was the winter of 1990, and I had left the Party some years before, but still considered myself a sympathizer. In International Falls, there was a wildcat strike against Boise-Cascade, which had brought in non-union workers to build a new paper mill. For those who don’t know, a wildcat strike is one where the officials of the union say no to the strike, and the workers tell the officials to bugger off.
One of the leaders of the strike was a guy named Dan; a big guy, with a good voice and clear eyes and an easy smile. Though no longer involved with the movement, I of course saw my parents a great deal, and they were working closely with Dan, so I got to know him. The greatest bitterness was directed against the leadership of the union, which was leaving them on their own, and in fact actively working against them. For whatever reason, I got inspired to write a song, and I did. It was called, “Never Trust a Bureaucrat,” and, really, from a songwriting standpoint, it isn’t one of my best efforts, but it made it’s point. I played it for Dan, and he loved it.
There was a rally to be held in support of the strike. The UAW workers at the Ford Plant in St. Paul donated the space for the meeting, and ran the concessions (beer and potato chips, as I recall). Dan told me to show up, and to bring my guitar.
The speakers were pretty awful. One was a leader (read: bureaucrat) of the pilot’s union, then striking against Eastern Airlines, and he bragged (bragged!) that they had pioneered the policy of givebacks–that is, offering to the company to reduce wages and benefits. The other speakers weren’t much better.
Finally, Dan had had enough. As some other bureaucrat was about to speak, he stood up, walked up to the mic like an army, and started talking. There was more passion than science in his speech, but there was a lot of passion. He was mad, fed up, disgusted. He spoke of the need for a labor party, and he spoke of the need for revolutionary leadership in the unions. He mentioned my parents by name, and then mentioned me–asking me to come up and sing my song.
I made a decent job of it; there was a line of bureaucrats–the speakers–against one wall, but I focused on the rows of construction workers from International Falls in front of me, and the Ford workers in back of them. I have no memory of how much or how little applause I got, but as I went to put my guitar away, Dan gave me a nod, and that meant a great deal.
All I was sure of, as I packed up the guitar, was that I really, really wanted a beer.
I walked back to the concession stand. The guy behind the counter, a Ford worker, gave me a nod and a beer. I put a dollar on the counter, but he pushed it back at me. “Your money’s no good here,” he said.
I walked out of the place feeling ten feet tall.