Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex

If it were possible for Donald Trump to surgically remove a tiny fragment of his monumental ego, and graft the little bugger onto the personality of organized labor, we would see a dramatic change in the way America’s labor unions handled themselves. Instead of behaving clumsily and timidly—instead of looking all frightened and nervous—they would comport themselves with confidence and dignity.

Next month, Hollywood is set to release the motion picture “Sully,” directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks in the title role. It’s the “true life” account of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s successful ditching, on January 15, 2009, of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, after the plane was laid low by a flock of Canada geese.

By single-handedly saving the lives of 155 passengers and crew, Sully became an instant hero. He appeared on half a dozen TV shows, he had a parade, he wrote a book, and he won a drawer full of awards and medals, including a “Key to the City of New York.” It’s no exaggeration to say that if he hadn’t responded the way he had, 155 people very likely would have died.

A month after his feat, I wrote a letter to Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, imploring his federation to buy up some national television ads promoting the fact that Captain Sullenberger was a union man. In addition to being a member in good standing of the Air Line Pilots Association, he was also the chairman of the union’s safety committee. A true union man.

And the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. After years (decades!) of hearing people—pundits, politicians, academics, media hacks, regular working people—mindlessly criticize America’s unions for being stupid or ineffective or anachronistic or corrupt, organized labor finally had an honest-to-goodness hero that we could wheel out on a dolly and show off to a proud nation.

Of course, the House of Labor did nothing. Indeed, even after receiving three e-mails from me, the AFL-CIO (“inertia” is its middle name) didn’t even bother to respond. It was as if my suggestion was so absurd, it didn’t warrant a reply. No big surprise really, because something similar occurred fifteen years ago, following the attack on the World Trade Center, on 9-11-01.

During their many television appearances, neither NYC mayor Rudolph Giuliani nor President George W. Bush mentioned so much as one syllable in recognition of the fact that the 343 firefighters who lost their lives on that fateful day were union members. Not a word.

All the cops, all the firefighters, all the paramedics. Proud union members. Because Giuliani and Bush were so opposed to workers’ collectives, and because they were so politically cautious and gutless, they couldn’t bring themselves to utter a single word of praise for unions, not even on the occasion when these brave men and women were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

But when I mentioned to the International vice-president of another union (which must remain nameless, as I still deal with them) that the AFL-CIO should publicize the fact that those heroic firefighters were union members, he dismissed the idea as “morbid,” as if I were somehow suggesting we exploit the dead.

Even though I made it clear that this wouldn’t be an ad, that it would be more of a “memorial” or testament than a “promotion,” he remained critical of the idea. He actually said that because labor was so much “in the crosshairs,” we needed to maintain a “low profile.” Low profile??? It boggles the mind how spineless unions have become.

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David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

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