What does it say about my industry that the worst paper in the English language is our official newspaper, the Guild Reporter? It manages to sum up everything about unions that gripes me- the joylessness, the complaining, the looming doom, the whining about how the world is set up entirely for the wishes of small cartoon men in striped pants and top hats who own everything from Baltic Avenue to Boardwalk. It always has the flavor of the smart but unfashionable kids with no social skills sitting around the high school cafeteria bitching about the jocks, with one exception: top union management would be the only subculture that could become hipper by getting into Dungeons and Dragons. At least it would give them a new set of descriptive terms for their foes. I’d love to pick up the union paper and read “Management takes cue from Mordor, hires scab-Orks” - it would suggest they have a sense of humor.

But humor is irrelevant when the situation is dire. And it’s always dire. It’s the sort of constant direness you find in the mind of someone who drives a 10-year old Volvo with bumperstickers that say “If you want peace, work for justice” on the left side and “If you want justice, work for peace” on the right, with a faded sticker in between from a 5,000 watt progressive radio station that features New Sounds in Congolese Drumming every Sunday night before signing off with an Emma Goodman quotation.

This isn’t to say I don’t like unions - no. When management shivved me a few years back over an utterly trivial and preposterous issue, the union stood by my side and helped me out. I pay my dues without complaint, I applaud their actions on the workers’ behalf. But I don’t get all jangly inside when I consider that I belong to a UNION!, because I do not feel I am the spiritual inheritor of some grimy-handed laborer who just wants to put bread on his family’s table, and is repaid for his work with the boot of a Pinkerton operative in his ribs. But honest to God, so much of the union rhetoric I get in the mail seems to think that Woody Guthrie will soon descend from the clouds with his fascist-killin’ geetar and start singing against the Greatest Injustice of Our Era, namely, the proposed 17% interest in the dental co-pay.

And then there’s the symbolism. Oh, the symbolism. From this week’s Guild Reporter:

“Earlier this year, Guild members at the Delaware County Times, the Morristown Times Herald and the Pottstown Mercury slapped Band-Aids on their faces, heads and arms and then limped into three separate bargaining sessions. Their message: JRC’s health insurance proposals hurt.” Guys? Why don’t you just limp in the room next time to remind everyone how lame you are. Band-Aids! That’ll do it! Management will be powerless against the blinding righteousness of our symbolism!

“Just in case the bandages were too subtle for the Trenton, NJ-based corporation. . . ” apparently corporate negotiators are expected to presume the presence of symbolic accouterments. Hey, they’re all wearing glasses. Maybe that means they’re having a hard time seeing our point. Let’s give in to their demands. “ - the Pottstown mobilizers also arranged for a hearse to be parked in front of the newspaper for one full day. A sign on the back of the vehicle captured the theme of all three negotiations: ‘We are Dead Serious About Getting a Contract!’”

Thank you, Crazy Eddie, for that brilliant slogan. Too bad it wasn't President's Day, or they could have dragged a cherry tree on the sidewalk and hung a sign that said "We cannot tell a lie - we want a Contract!" I mean, I expect more than lame 1960s car dealership slogans from a union that represents writers.

The lead story, front page: “Courts, Congress Focus on FCC rules; partisan majority ignores hundreds of thousands of protest cards, e-mails.” Emails ignored? Unpossible! Additional news briefs: “TNG-CWIA Local 1096 received a ‘Ms.’ prize from the Coalition for Labor Union Women at its recent Hit and Ms. Awards for winning contraceptive coverage in the Dow Jones health care plan. The biggest “hit”? That went to President Bush, for putting millions of civilians in harm’s way with his Iraq policy.”

How many newspapers does Baghdad have now? Forty? Sixty?

Book reviews: why, it’s “Summer Reading Lists” suggestions, starting with that beach-fave, “Left Out: Reds and America’s Industrial Unions.” Did you know that Communist-dominated labor unions were good, because they were very democratic? They were! Why, the
“Communists viewed unions as ‘a weapon for he liberation of the working people.’ The resulting politicization of everyday life, transcending the issues subject to collective bargaining, encouraged precisely the kind of participatory democracy that ostensibly defines the American experience.”

More news headlines:
“Union leaders warn of bargaining crisis and impending collapse of US health system.”

Now, the editorial page. There’s a cartoon. A truck is carrying a big bag with the word “budget surplus” written on side. It's delivering the bag to a gated community whose name, according to the sign out front, is “Tax Cuts for the Rich." What nuance! Kneel and learn, O Black-and-white talk radio! Then my Guild president has an editorial: “Blair a product of his culture.” That would be Jason Blair. And his culture? Why, the culture that says it’s okay for Clear Channel to use
“deejays in centralized studios to feed what is portrayed as local programming to stations hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles away.” So if Blair made up stuff from his apartment, he was only following Clear Channel’s lead.

And lest you think I’m being too hard, let me congratulate the paper, and the union, for a story about a reservist who was given a crappy part-time position after serving a year in the Armed Services - something that violated the law and the union contract. That’s what unions are for; that’s the sort of managerial perfidy that makes unions necessary, and I won’t sully the moment with a “but.”

(new page)

None of this would bug me much, except I have to pay for it. That’s right: in John Ashcroft’s America, I am required to support a publication whose views I do not entirely share. Money is taken directly from my paycheck for this purpose. It’s a dime or two, so I’m not going to march down to the Union office and pull a Patrick McGoohan, pounding on the table and making the tea cups dance. Life’s too short to get pronged over every little thing like this. And I don’t think I’d mind that the paper was slanted if it was well-written. It isn’t. It’s like a video for the TV union that’s out-of-focus, full of star wipes and boom-shadow shots. Embarrassing.

So I’m listening to the radio the other day, and Medved is talking about France and its circling-the-drain tourism industry. He quotes a Wall Street Journal article that quotes a Times-Picayune piece about the Woody Allen tourism spots: “Why him? Roman Polanski wasn’t available?” I snickered, and thought: hey wait, I wrote that. Here’s the entire section:

The French government decided to hire a celeb to speak on France’s behalf. Did they get Arnold Schwartzenegger? (“Ahl be bach - for de crepes!”) Did they get Paula Abdul? (“I don’t care what Simon says, France is incredibly talented.”) No, they got Woody Allen. Most Americans regard Woody a wrinkly creep who makes movies you no longer regret missing. Even on video. “I don't want to have to freedom-kiss my wife ,” Allen says in the ads, :when what I really want to do is French-kiss her.” Oh man. You might recall that Mr. Allen is 391 years older than his wife, and that his wife was his previous girlfriend’s adopted daughter. America does not like to think of Woody Allen kissing his wife. America would pay money not to see Woody Allen kiss anyone. Why him? Roman Polanski wasn’t available?

They also got George Plimpton to appear in an ad, making it official: French understanding of American culture is taken entirely a 1968 issue of Playboy.

The piece must have appeared in New Orleans, where, for all I know I am regarded as a GOD. (Most probably not.) But it was quoted as if the N’awlinians themselves came up with it. One Minnesotan’s line was welded to the Big Easy by a WSJ piece, disseminated nationally by a Pacific Northwest talk-show host. What a world.

And now back to work; more tomorrow.

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