The Left

Which side are you on?

Harry’s priceless quote from Andrew Sullivan– “The aesthetic case against organized labor is, I think, irrefutable”– brings to mind a funny and heartbreaking book that came out more than a decade ago. It’s called Which Side Are You On?: Trying to Be for Labor When It’s Flat on Its Back and it was written by a pro-union labor lawyer in Chicago named Thomas Geoghegan. He pretty much concedes the aesthetic case against labor, but makes the following observations about the subversiveness that’s at the core of the labor movement.

Organized labor, he writes, is a “black hole of American culture, with all the American values except one: individualism. And here, in this black hole, paunchy middle-aged men, slugging down cans of beer, come to hold hands, touch each other, and sing ‘Solidarity Forever.’ OK, that hardly ever happens, but most people in this business, somewhere, at some point, see it once, and it is the damnedest un-American thing you will ever see. Two or three days later, you will not even believe you saw it. I had to see it twice before I could believe I saw it once.”

“Even liberals, even progressives, do not seem to need us. At least, organized labor, I think, is incomprehensible to them. In some ways, American liberals, even American radicals, have more in common with the Reagan right than they do with us. All of them, the whole bunch, are middle-class, Emersonian individualists. Emerson, Thoreau, all of these guys are scabs. Lane Kirkland [then the stodgy president of the AFL-CIO] is outside the American consensus in a way that even Abbie Hoffman never was.”

“Look, I support the [American Civil Liberties Union]. But, seriously; give those people everything they want, the whole Bill of Rights, and it would not cost the country a thing. It would be no big deal. But give labor anything it wants, even a lousy ten-man machine shop, and every drop of it is blood. It all comes out of a bottom line.”