Labor and other pains

First, the news. You may not like it, but Detroit police officers were well within the bounds of socially acceptable behavior when they blew away Errol Shaw, the deaf druggie waving a rake at them. First of all, there is no muddled amendment to the Constitution that says anything about a right to keep and bear rakes.

While there is a National Rake Association (NRA), it is weak and toothless, without expensive Washington lobbyists or even a single semisenile Hollywood actor to act as its front man. Second, Shaw was an apparently mentally ill black man in a poor neighborhood with little money and no powerful friends.

Target practice, in other words, at least to a few hot dog cops who temporarily forgot about Geoffrey Fieger. Guess here is that Deadeye Dave Krupinski is going down, and his partner is mildly disciplined, for causing Chief Benny Napoleon massive embarrassment and the city, probably, some chunk of change.

Everything will then change, naturally, and the police will treat all human beings with the dignity and respect they deserve. After all, it isn’t like anything such as this has ever happened before. Ask Malice Green’s family.

By the way, the Metro Times has learned the police officers are also possibly guilty of massive dereliction of duty. A special MT investigation found additional unlicensed rakes in the Shaw garage, as well as several nearby garages.

Better they had firebombed the whole neighborhood.

Well, at least we got Joe: Errol Shaw’s days in the labor force are over, but labor did stage its annual parade Monday, marching up Woodward from Michigan to Mack. Once upon a time, this was where Democrats formally kicked off their presidential election campaigns; it was here, in 1960, that many Detroiters caught their first glimpse of John F. Kennedy. Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey — they all came, and more often then not, Michigan delivered for them in November.

The parade has been sporadic in recent years, but they’ve revived it. This year, most of the attention was focused on Joe Lieberman, whose selection as the Democratic vice presidential nominee seems to have turned this race around.

One of those marching was the closest thing we have to a living history of labor struggles in America, Doug Fraser, whose life ought to be the subject of a movie. Born in Scotland, to a father who worked in a distillery and saved every shilling for the move to America, Fraser never had any doubt who he was. He always saw himself as a worker.

During the Great Depression, he dropped out of Chadsey High School to help support his family. He worked in one place that had a glassed-in lavatory in the middle of the plant, so the bosses could watch the workers relieving themselves.

They fired him from his first job for trying to start a union, and ditto from the second. Gradually, he got things going, joined the UAW, got elected head of a local. He moved up the ranks and caught the eye of Walter Reuther, and had made vice-president by 1970, when Detroit’s greatest labor leader died in a plane crash.

But Doug Fraser went on to accomplish something Reuther never imagined. During the dreadful days of the late 1970s, Fraser, then UAW president in his own right, first helped rally his troops to give up some of their hard-won gains to save Chrysler.

Then, in 1980, he, the leader of the union, joined the Chrysler board, a move that sent Walter P. corkscrewing down another three levels of hell. Fraser served his union and saved the company, and tens of thousands of jobs.

The capitalists later sold Chrysler to the Germans, of course, but today there are thousands of workers with good jobs and fat bonuses at our local Daimler subsidiary who wouldn’t have them if it wasn’t for what Fraser got his troops to do, back then. (Only the ignorant think Chrysler was saved by Lee Iacocca.)

Today, few young people seem interested in unions, which now represent a dwindling 13 percent of all workers, barely more than a third of their peak post-World War II strength. In a sense, one can scarcely blame them. There are jobs everywhere; the economy is booming, and everyone plans on being an independent software engineer too.

Then, too, in recent years they have seen unions send their troops out to commit suicide, as in the Detroit newspaper strike, and waste millions of dollars on lousy, hopeless political candidates, like Howard Wolpe and Casino Larry Owen.

Yet they — and we — forget just where we’d be without unions, or what their promise really is. Doug Fraser knows better. He knows most of us won’t, in the final analysis, win the millionaire game, and will instead end up working for somebody else.

Eighty-four years of struggle, inside the company and out, have taught him this: We will always need “unions as long as there are bosses. And I would say (that) even in those places that have a benevolent boss that the only way you can get democracy in the workplace — the only way you can have a voice in the decision-making process — and have a say in your wages and your working conditions, is through a union.”

Maybe if today’s union leaders started saying that, they’d get somewhere.

Shameless promo: Everybody needs to laugh, and if that framed picture of George W. trying to look thoughtful just won’t do it, go see “A Habeas Chorus Line” at the Detroit Institute of Arts Saturday at 7:30 p.m. This is first-rate political parody, composed and sung by a bunch of male lawyers whose names I don’t remember, and the beautiful Sara Fischer. Nine bucks; you won’t be sorry.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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