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Jack is a graduate of Rutgers University where he majored in history. His career in the life and health insurance industry involved medical risk selection and brokerage management. Retired in Florida for over two decades after many years in NJ and NY, he occasionally writes, paints, plays poker, participates in play readings and is catching up on Shakespeare, Melville and Joyce, etc.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Unions, Good Eats, Sid's Imprisonment Yarn and a Poem

Unionism - A Thing of the Past?

Membership in unions in this country is on the decline.  But it always wasn’t that way. During the nineteenth century, when industrialization was proceeding at a rapid pace, employers were in the driver’s seat when it came to what they paid employees, what benefits (if any) they gave them, working conditions, working hours and safety concerns.  If an employee didn’t like it that way, he was free to quit and look for another job.  And bring your own toilet paper.

Samuel Gompers, nineteenth century cigar maker and founder of the American Federation of Labor

There was a need for someone to represent and protect the interests of workers. Organizations like the Knights of Labor and the Industrial Workers of the World (the “wooblies”) sprang up to fill this role, along with trade unions organizing those with specific skills, which developed into the American Federation of Labor. This was not without opposition from business, however, which saw the burgeoning labor movement in this country as an echo of the socialist leanings of similar Marxist workers’ groups in Europe.  Violence often erupted.  Law enforcement and private “strikebreakers” didn’t hesitate to break heads.  But unions survived so that by the middle of the twentieth century, the American Federation of Labor, the Congress of Industrial Organizations and the United Mine Workers represented millions of workers and had brought about significant reforms, benefiting the employees of unionized companies.  The government’s National Labor Relations Board served to oversee union activities.  Most labor unions found a friend in the Democratic Party, although of late, that party’s flirtation with globalization has disenchanted many unions.

During the 1960s, about 30% of American workers belonged to unions.  But since then, things have changed.  Today, only about 11% of workers are union members and almost half of them are in unionized government jobs.  This reduction in union membership is primarily due to the absence of the abuses which in earlier days unions served to correct as well as a less sympathetic National Labor Relations Board, the result of changes made during Republican administrations.  Because of government regulations such as those OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) provides, minimum wage laws and employers who realize that it is good business to treat employees fairly, the original role of unions is fading.  Also, many states, usually with Republican dominated legislatures, have passed “right to work” laws which permit a worker to remain out of a union and avoid paying dues to a union which represents the rest of the employees where he works. Such G.O.P. acts to weaken unions are understandable because of the financial support unions usually give to Democratic candidates.

Recently, workers in a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee voted to remain out of the United Auto Workers which was seeking to represent them.  Of course, their wages and benefits weren’t as good as those in plants unionized by the UAW, but by Tennessee’s standards, they were just fine.  And the workers, it is claimed, also feared that a vote to unionize might jeopardize a planned expansion of the plant and the long term future of their jobs.  The specter of what generous UAW contracts supposedly did to Detroit-based American automakers, and that city as well, may have contributed to the employees fears when they voted.

So, that’s where we stand today.  Looking ahead, however, it appears that we will be facing a situation over future decades where there will always be more people looking for jobs than there will be jobs available.  (Facebook recently paid nineteen billion dollars to purchase a firm that operated with only about fifty employees, putting a spotlight on the reduced role human labor seems to be playing in the business world.)  The law of supply and demand as it applies to job availability may put employers in the same driver’s seat they were in during the late nineteenth century.  Someone has to be there to protect the interests of employees to avoid the abuses of the past creeping back into today’s labor market.  Neither employers nor government (which is itself an employer) can be counted on to fill that role.  Right now, with the decline of unionism, it appears that task is being left to the media, in print and electronically.  But that may not be sufficient.

There has to be a new role defined for the American labor movement, one which acknowledges that the challenges of today are not the same as those of the past, and which sees a role for unions in serving employees of companies which treat them fairly well without any prodding by or negotiations with unions.  That role might stress education, improving production and job training, rather than just compensation.  In Germany today, such "workers councils" exist which contribute ideas to management.  (Oddly, Volkswagen actively promotes this kind of this activity in their plants outside of the United States, and would not have been unhappy had the UAW won the election in their Tennessee plant.)

Volkwagen Chattanooga Plant

But workers still need unions to serve as a “life jacket” in case their vessel starts to sink, and if that doesn’t happen, what harm would come from having the reassurance that one will be available to grab onto if need be?  That’s one of the reasons why we still need unions.
 Jack Lippman

Living in the USA

Living in Florida, New York, Duluth, Little Rock, Pittsburgh, Sioux Falls, Boise, Tucson or wherever else in this country you may hang your hat has its good points.  And if you talk to anyone who lives in any of these places, or anywhere else in the U.S. of A. for that matter, they'll also tell you that they where they live has its bad points as well.  Too cold, too hot, too wet, too dry, too dirty, too remote, too crowded, too quiet, too noisy, too smelly, too expensive, etc., etc.  But on its very worst day, any town or city in this country is far, far preferable to living in Venezuela, in the Ukraine, in Syria or in any country in sub-Sahara Africa, where a human life has far less value than it does here.  Think about it.

Good Eats in the Big Apple

On a recent visit to New York City, I had the opportunity to eat in the kinds of restaurants we sometimes find lacking in South Florida.   For your enjoyment when you are in New York, and if you’re in the mood for really good seafood and an inexpensive small portion menu during their lengthy happy hour, try the Mermaid Inn, which has several Manhattan locations.  We went to the one on Amsterdam Avenue (87 Street).  The fried clam sliders were great.  I also recommend Markt, a classic Belgian brasserie on Sixth Avenue near 21 St.  Unless you want to fly to Brussels, you won’t get a better bowl of mussels anywhere in the world.  


I had mine in a white wine sauce.  Finally, although there are plenty of Asian restaurants in the Sunshine State, few compare with Asuka (23 Street just west of Seventh Avenue) for sushi and a fine choice of Thai and Chinese specialties.  As an appetizer, try the eggplant in a miso sauce, and proceed from there. All of these places have full bars.  

Sid's Corner


Sid Bolotin  

You’ve got to be kidding. You can’t break out now.” whispered Alvin. “They’re not ready for us.”                              

“I know, I know.” murmured Alex. “But, I’m so squished in here with you that I can’t stand it anymore.”                                                   

“Well,” said Alvin, “it’s only a short time more, and we’ll both be free.”

“God, I can’t wait,” sighed Alex, “here let me spoon around you. That will ease the cramps a bit.”                                                                       

“Yes, that’s better,” murmured Alvin, as Alex conformed to Alvin’s curvature and relaxed against him.                                       

The brothers relaxed against each other, nestling their bodies into a Yin/Yang orientation that felt the most comfortable to them both. Some moments passed in silence; but then Alex began his lamentations about space, cramping, pain, and impatience to be on his way.                        

“Alex,” protested Alvin,” You can’t keep this up. You’re becoming a pain-in-the-ass. Stop it! Wait for the signal! Then we’ll both be able to escape.”        

“When will the signal come?” whined Alex, “we’ve been here longer than our sentence. Why hasn’t the signal arrived?”                                  

“Soon, soon” comforted Alvin “soon, soon.”                                               

“Hey!” exclaimed Alex. “Did you feel that tremor? And that one? Is this it? Is this the real tremor?”

“Maybe,” Pondered Alvin.” could be, could be. They are getting stronger. Maybe it is time for the final burst. Hold on tightly. I think it’s happening!”  

“Ow!” screamed Alex. “Ouch!” yelled Alvin, as the quaking flung them onto the walls of the chamber. Back and forth, forward and back in a seemingly endless cycle of slamming they were being tumbled and smashed. Suddenly, the pattern of the tremors changed as the walls of the chamber squeezed smaller and smaller.                                                                                

“Alex!” screamed Alvin.” We’re going to be crushed! We’ll die!”             

“No! No!” shouted Alex above the roar of the quaking. “Hold tight! This is the signal. The great escape is now!”

With a thunderous roaring in their ears the brothers saw the end of the chamber erupt, and they were sucked along a tapering passageway as the waters of their cell poured out. With two loud plops they burst from darkness into brilliant light.

Stunned by their traumatic escape they silently surrendered to the many hands reaching to help them. While emitting muted sighs and gurgling, they heard the announcement:

“Well, Mrs. Smith, finally, here are your twin sons!”


                                               *   *   *   *   * 


Sid Bolotin  2-16-14             


He flies in from his new life in L.A.
We arrange another boys-night-out
                        He is my friend

First supping at our favorite deli
Pot roast for him, shrimp wrap for me
                        He is my friend

Comfortable, easy-going chatter
Punctuated by warm moments of silence
                        He is my friend

Then a shoot-em up, good-guy, bad-guy movie
Something our spouses would not want to see
                        He is my friend

Then homemade desert at my house
Eagerly served by my wife
                        He is my friend

Crowned by our watching TV’s Justified
Punctuated by our bursts of mutual glee
                        He is my friend

Plans made for a four-some with his new woman
Warm embraces as he leaves
                        He is our friend

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Jack Lippman 

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