A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a collection of Labor Quotes that I came to rely on for inspiration. To give credit where credit is due, they were put together and hosted by IGC. The Internet being transient and cruel, the collection disappeared into the ether one day. And so, when handed an opportunity, I built my own Labor Quotes garden as part of the website I tended for Red Bank Local APWU. That, too, passed after a time. But I've very much missed my baby and, for many reasons, Wisconsin's struggles not being the least of them, I've resurrected the quotes from the Way Back Machine and have placed them in fresh soil, here, in the hopes that they will grow and flourish.
And, lo, the Earth shall tremble....not. I suspect the Earth will barely notice. And that's OK. I did this originally and do it now because I find that strolling through these quotes, from time to time, refreshes my soul and lifts my spirit. I can only hope that others may find some wisdom and inspiration here.
When I started the Labor Quote collection, I began with the usual suspects. One day, sitting in a bar with a couple of the finest union brothers the world has ever known, I noticed a chalkboard behind the bar. On the chalkboard was a quote from Edgar Allan Poe: "What care I how time advances? I am drinking ale today." Damn straight, I thought. And it suddenly dawned on me that labor and leisure and life--everything, in fact--were all connected, all part of the same whole. Yeah, I can be slow to grasp the obvious. That was a turning point for me, personally, and for my Labor Quotes collection. So, now, as you wade through the quotes from Abe Lincoln and Mother Jones, you'll also find the occasional quote that seems completely out of left field...unless you think about it. And that's part of the point.
Condemned to repeat it
I could probably have had this site live days ago, but I have this habit of getting distracted. What I mean by that is that I'll get curious about something and that will lead me to something else and that will lead me to something else and, before you know it, the day is gone. As a case in point, with the Wisconsin Uprising, the name Robert LaFollette was getting a lot of play. I had a vague idea of who he was--Senator, Governor, Progressive--but there were no LaFollette quotes on the site, so I went "in search of". Surely he'd said something quote-worthy about labor. Spent a day reading his autobiography and a speech or two.
The reason you don't see a lot of quotes from LaFollette is that, in that age, orators and politicians rarely spoke in bumper stickers. Why you should find it relevant is because people have forgotten their history. People have forgotten that what led to the Great Depression was corporate greed and unbridled capitalism. LaFollette predicted what was to come in the decades prior. Read his warnings about corporate mergers ("combinations of combinations" he called them) and unregulated banks and you'll think you're reading a prelude to the Great Recession of 2008.
Oh, but our memories are so short these days, many have already forgotten the Great Recession of 2008. Forgotten who caused it and forgotten who profited from it.
Where the money is
I recognize that a site like this is mostly reaching the choir, if anyone. And, no doubt, those who don't like unions will only skim through looking for confirmation of Glenn Beck's latest exploding head conspiracy theory ("It's true, he's got commie socialist quotes on there!" Yeah, I got Lou Dobbs and Richard Nixon in there, too. Sew yer buttons.). But the only wasted effort is the one not made. So forgive me if the following rant sometimes sounds confrontational.
Wealthy business interests have robbed this country blind for centuries. They are enabled in this endeavor by some of the very people they are stealing from. They do this through the magic of misdirection, playing on people's fears of the different and the politics of envy. Instead of demanding prosecution for the fraudsters and banksters who caused the economic collapse, they have people blaming teachers and firemen and illegal immigrants.
Both political parties deserve blame for this; one side points the finger at various innocents on behalf of their guilty benefactors while the other, equally in service to wealthy overlords, declares "the past is past; let us look ahead". Blaming the unions or illegal immigrants is just the way the wealthy get the working class to fight amongst themselves for crumbs--it's not a way to get ahead and it will most certainly lead to a lower standard of living for your children. As someone wrote recently (wish I could remember where), if your house, God forbid, were to burn down, the solution is not to torch the homes of your neighbors so that their loss is equal to or greater than your own. And here we are knowing who it was who burned your house down--knowing it was the banking and investment industries--and, instead of pursuing the guilty parties and making them pay the damage, here we are at our neighbor's homes with matches in our hands. WTF?
Do some in the public sector, perhaps, have better pension plans than private sector counterparts? Well, since business decimated the pension system in the private sector years ago, I'd guess yes. It's been a core principle of the labor movement that part of your compensation for the years you work to make the rich richer should be to provide for the time when you're "too old to work but too young to die". So unions often forego some salary in favor of better retirement security.
But no one ever seems to address why public sector pensions plans are, supposedly, "unsustainable". It's because the rich STOLE YOUR MONEY, that's why. Before the age of Reagan, pension plans (public and private) had to be fully funded. Business came to Reagan, or vice-versa, during a recession, and said "if we could just invest that money, instead of merely saving it, everyone would prosper". It was nothing more than a pre-text for the rich to get their hands on your money. The Wisconsin public sector pension plan, as it happens, is one of the best funded in the country at 99.8% (or 88.2% "fair value) as of 2009. Governor Walker wants to crush unions in Wisconsin for a number of reasons, but a big one is to enable him to STEAL THEIR MONEY. He wants to take that money from the pension plan, claim it as his to do with what he will, and then apply it to the $3 billion Wisconsin debt that was caused by $3.7 billion in tax cuts for the rich.
The United States Post Office is gearing up to do the same thing to their employees. The USPS, by law, still must maintain a fully funded pension plan. Since USPS employees were moved to the Social Security system in the late eighties, their move to have that law changed is all about getting their hands on that money and spending it elsewhere. As has happened so often in the private sector, when it comes to be your turn, the money is gone. Where does a man or woman go to reclaim the part of their life--their youth--they gave a company in exchange for a promise the company didn't keep? I think the owners and managers of a company ought be required to sell every asset of that company, and then every personal asset of their own, before being allowed to renege on the contracts they made with workers regarding pensions. The company got their end of the deal after all, and then some.
They're coming for Social Security for the same reason--it's money they can't get their hands on (and, of course, all money is "their's"). Medicare and Medicaid are a different story. They need to be fixed. In this equation, the insurance industry is stealing your money and providing NO value in the transaction. The fix is self-evident--government run health care, just like every.other.industrial.nation.in.the.world. What can I tell you? The truth hurts. Medical costs would drop as much as 30% overnight just by cutting out the extortionists in the middle.
"God, how patient are Thy poor! These corporations and masters of manipulation in finance heaping up great fortunes by a system of legalized extortion, and then exacting from the contributors--to whom a little means so much--a double share to guard the treasure!"—Robert M. LaFollette, Sr., Wisconsin Governor and U.S. Senator
Follow the money. The banksters and fraudsters caused the economic problems. They actually profited from the crisis they created. That's what they do. They, not unions, are the ones stealing from you. That's where the money is. Tax cuts for the rich mean tax increases for the rest of us. One way or another, YOU will be paying for those tax cuts for the rich. And we have 30 years of empirical data that tells us that, contrary to the rhetoric, the rich do NOT create jobs--not in this country at any rate.
In any case, instead of fighting to strip your neighbor of something you think they have that you don't, why not put that effort toward winning such benefits for yourself? Ah, but for that, you're going to need a union. Unless, of course, you don't think you are worthy of a living wage and security in your health care and retirement. Unions happen to think everyone is worthy of such things. They fight for a better life for everyone. Corporations fight to ensure that everyone else serves them. Fight the real enemy--the corporations, the banks, the insurance industry, big pharma--that's where the money is. They stole it from us.
The new quotes
Anyway, so there are a bunch of new old quotes, here, that weren't contained in the Red Bank Local Labor Quotes pages, even though I hadn't originally intended to add anything new. They appear (for now) in red--more for my convenience than anything else. We have a bunch from the aforementioned LaFollette. Reading up on the Bread and Roses strike and Haymarket lead me to worthwhile quotes from Joseph Ettor, Bill Haywood and Albert Spies. I found a site where, much to my delight, many of my more obscure quotes from the old site found refuge and lived on. From them, I added Hal Holbrook and Mary Anderson and their inclusion of Marjorie Kelly caused me to begin reading some of her work. Ms. Kelly specializes in business ethics. I don't think she quite yet understands that there is no such thing, but she seems to be learning. Nonetheless, her ideas merit thought and discussion, so she gets a whole bunch of quotes here and, in me, a new reader. Looking for a picture of Robert Ingersoll lead me to a bunch of thought provoking quotations. One or two contemporary quotes and, thinking about the solidarity in Wisconsin led me to think about the Solidarity movement in Poland which led me to add some quotes from Lech Walesa.
Far and away, my favorite new batch of quotes comes from Wimpy Winpisinger, the late head of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Found one loose quote, somewhere, about being a proud lefty ("We're being centered to death," said Wimpy) and knew I had to read more. Found a speech and an article he'd written, which didn't help much, and an interview which did. The interview's linked up in the quotes and you should read the whole thing, but "Up yours, buddy," as his answer to the business owner threatening to outsource, was all I needed to hear. Were that our political leaders had the courage to stand up to big business today, we might still have jobs and economic growth in America.
Not every quote will strike you every time. I've found that quotes come alive in the moment they are needed. For example, Wimpy's quote about being "centered to death" would not have struck me so poignant when Republicans ruled Washington.
And then, of course, there are the odd and quirky little quotes that give Stubby's Labor Quotes it's unique flavor and personality--the ones that'll make you think out of the box a little bit or, at least, give you a smile. Like these:
"You laugh at me because I'm different; I laugh at you because you're all the same."— Jonathan Davis (vocalist for the rock band Korn)
"Truth is found in the hands of the fool. Peace in the hands of the fearless."—blogger, poet, G20 protester, etc. "Onu Oremun" ("numero uno" backwards)
Oddly, there are almost no quotes from the three voices I've most enjoyed in the 5 years since I last did this--none from Keith Olbermann or Jon Stewart and only one from Barack Obama. And that Obama quote? It's his promise to walk the picket line with American workers being denied their right to collectively bargain. Yeah, I really believe he should honor that promise and walk the line with the people of Wisconsin. It would cost him nothing and, by God, its the right thing to do. And I've included it in my collection as a constant reminder of the importance of deeds following words. Or, to quote Lech Walesa: "I must tell you that the supply of words on the world market is plentiful, but the demand is falling. Deeds must follow words."
Be the ball
I signed on as a steward to solve a specific problem, but I took so much from the experience. I learned to understand what brotherhood and solidarity are truly all about. I learned that I am capable of so much more than I would have believed, and capable of much, much, much more than that when working in service of others than in working only for myself, and capable of exponentially more than that when working in service of others alongside union brothers and sisters who are also working in service of others.
I learned that each of us has the power to change the world for the better, if we but choose to do so. Yeah, yeah, sounds like some of that there "hippie shit". But it's true. Here's the secret: If you want to change the world, change yourself. If you want a better world, be a better person. If you want a kinder world, be kinder. And so on. It's not as though this is a new concept. It's some of the oldest wisdom in creation. From Lao Tzu--centuries before Christ--"The way to do is to be"; to Biblical teaching--"all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them"; to Mahatma Gandhi--"You must be the change you wish to see in the world"; to "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"--"Don't dream it, BE it."
In short, be the ball.