Not long ago in Washington someone wanted to know how many union staff people worked in the city and whether an accurate estimate could be made of the number of Jews with union staff jobs in the community.
The first guesses offered were that there must be about five thousand labor staff people in Washington, and of them, maybe half Jews.
Actually as nearly as anyone could work out, there are about a thousand union staff workers of whom no more than fifty are Jews. What is true of Washington is approximately true of the country: Union staff people and Jews in the labor movement tend to be highly visible so that there seem to be many more of them than there actually are. Similarly, despite the advertised contention, there are enormously fewer racketeers and crooks, and hardly a smidgeon of the radicals in the labor movement that everyone takes for granted—though in this there is an excuse, for a surprising number of sagging middle aged limpets around union offices insist truculently that they are still revolutionary radicals, a generation after their political glands have entirely shrivelled.
It isn’t even that the radicalism is a genuine memory; most of the pretenders were never radicals, instead were honorable militants, brave decent bullies on an organizing drive, and intensely loyal to the union, which was administered like a gang, company and boss haters in the same way tough teen-agers are cop-haters, but with few exceptions, never radical in the sense that they wanted to plough up the old growths in the society and begin again. An incredibly offensive article which appeared last year in the AFL-CIO News puts the situation on the big screen in technicolor. Written by a labor editor who now runs a public relations firm that handles only labor organization accounts, it reviles a business paper for critizing union leaders who stay at the best hotels, eat in the credit card restaurants, and have developed tastes for expensive consumer goods and services. The labor editor steamed for 1500 words on the bourbon-like snobs who could speak the view that union officials were not as good as company officials and not every bit as qualified to sleep between the same silk sheets in the same supercilious circumstances.
Jerks ply their trades in all kinds of professions, but this piece was printed in the AFL-CIO News on the editorial page. No one protested, no one was sufficiently embarrassed to become public about the uneasiness. Not that there was no expression of radical moral disapprobation; there was not even a gesture of disengagement to indicate that if no one felt particularly guilty about his wage and working condition at least there was democratic conscience enough to twinge over an ostentatious display of privileged status.
The sad fact is that most union staff people think they are underpaid, even though they better than double the take-home of their rank and file, not counting what comes free in...
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