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Saturday, February 26, 2011

2/26/11 GHOSTS

    Saturday, 8:45 AM.  5 degrees, up from 0 earlier.  Wind W, calm.  The sky is gray overcast and  it has snowed very lightly.  The barometer is stuck on partly cloudy and I will try changing the batteries. The cold, gray day fits my mood.
    All the turmoil in Madison, particularly the vivid photos of emotionally violent street theater inside the Wisconsin capital building and the chambers of the legislature itself resurrect a lot of negative feelings for me.  They begin with childhood memories of the communist inspired Allis Chalmers strike of 1946 in my home town of West Allis, Wisconsin, a Milwaukee suburb.  The violent strike lasted for months (actually  329 days), during which time I was strictly admonished to stay away from the action, and there was an urgency in my parents’ voices that kept me unusually constrained in my otherwise pretty much unimpeded roaming.  There were terrific fights between union thugs (probably many of them neighbors or relatives) and the police, broken windows and lots of other damage, and the smell of teargas wafted around the small West Allis downtown.  Communism was something many “working” people and “intellectuals” flirted with in those days.
    A dozen years or so later I would sit in Hank and Maddy’s tavern on Greenfield Avenue, celebrating my Milwaukee birthright to a couple of beers after work, and listening to the glorification of those dark days by the then current Allis Chalmers union workers as they grumbled in their beer mugs and prepared  for, or engaged in, yet another strike, slowdown, sickout or similar sabotage against their employer.  The hatred of the “boss” and “business” was palpable.  So was the arrogance: “We’ve got them by the balls, the factory is too big for them to ever leave,” (it was a mile square and it shipped their mammoth generators and farm and construction equipment around the world).
    The anti-business, pro-union rhetoric and the harassment of the company went on, unabated, for more than a generation, and I witnessed and heard it all.  And, guess what… the day came when the huge factory, namesake of the community and pride of the state…simply left.  Changed its board of directors and its name, said to-hell-with-it, and left. Allis Chalmers is now a collection of vacant lots and mini-malls, and memories of the good life for those grizzled few still alive to remember it. And the union members sat there in their taverns and cried in their Milwaukee union-made beer and longed for the old days of fat pay  checks and the joy of unbridled hatred.  The real tragedy of this story is that it continued, an ingrained Milwaukee cultural trait, until virtually all the heavy industry, and tragedy  of tragedies, the vaunted breweries, closed their doors and silently slipped away.  So,  today’s "working class"  Milwaukeeans mutter and cry in beer produced somewhere else. 
    So when I see the unions and their political appointees trashing the capital and spewing hatred and striking and going AWOL on the public dollar, I also smell the teargas and see the long ago ghosts of Hank and Maddy’s Tavern, drinking their bitter beer.

1 comment:

  1. When I visited the Capital on a field trip as a young kid I thought of it like a church. It was beautiful. The thought of people sleeping on the marble floors and yelling alot just doesn't fit. The opposition doesn't have the votes.Simple as that! I see points on both sides but the point is mute, you have to honor the process and who won all the Senate seats. If you haven't the votes like it or not you have to honor your job and not run away.