Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Report From the Line.

So I've decided it's futile to stem the tide. Given that less than 12% of the American workforce is part of a labor union, I feel that fewer and fewer people are ever going to have the experience that I'm going through now. Ultimately it seems like I'm going to someday regret not putting any words down about what is happening. My main concern is that no one stumble upon this forum and make me some part of a specific public debate. The best way to minimize that riskt is just to avoid all references to proper nouns. There's no way I want some irate community member coming upon this via Google. I simply don't need that kind of attention.

Today I completed my third day on the picket line. The first two days I switched with a co-worker who drew an early shift. It's bad enough I have to make a long drive to walk in a circle for three plus hours... I don't want to get up at 5:30 in the morning to do it. The line outside the main school campus is particularly prone to monotony. There is very little through traffic at the location, and not much to do other than make conversation with those you are walking with. In the years I have been at my job I haven't made any close connections with the staff, and so I mostly walk alone. I have to time my circuits around the little plot given for strikers, so that I can avoid getting bunched up with the others. If I continue quietly and in relative isolation, I am able to access some sort of zone. That describes the bulk of my experience on Monday.

I drive all the way to a rural household owned by a fellow teacher, and park my car. Several non-tenured staff shuttle us to the strike site via SUVs. There is always junk food waiting there for a burst of quick energy. I stop on my way to pick up a high-powered espresso drink, and sweat it out in the unseasonably warm weather. We wear professional clothes (minus a tie), just as if we were reporting normally to work. It's not active wear, so it's a bit uncomfortable. Midway through my shift I walk up the road to a porta-john on the property of a generous parent. I sit on a rock and have a smoke or two, and then get back. At 6PM, the shuttles come and bring you back to the car. This would be a typical day on the line.

Yesterday I went over to the middle/elementary schools in the next town- these facilities sit bestride a high-traffic road, and are staffed mostly by females. There is more anti-union sentiment here, and the home teachers feel more comfortable with additional men at their side. I didn't have to walk in a circle there. We stood in a line facing the passing cars, wearing big signs suspended by string from our necks. Mine says we are looking for a "fair contract". Everyone was very nice, and time passed quickly as everyone socialized amiably. Mostly we looked at drivers and received the full range of reactions one might expect. The vast majority waved at us, smiled, or gave us the thumbs up. I hadn't expected that as the media is presenting a picture of a public very biased for the district and against teachers. From my experience, that isn't the case at all.

We did have an incident though. Late in the day a tall older man with military bearing came over to inquire what we were "protesting about". I sized him up immediately as someone who opposed our cause. I made it a point not to make eye contact with him, but other teachers engaged him. He started angrily interrogating one guy about his salary. When given a handout prepared by the union for such situations, the man angrily shoved it inside the shirt of one of the picketers. I was amazed at the restraint of my co-worker. The policeman who was assigned to ensure order at the scene stepped in and held the aggressor for questioning. He asked if the teacher wanted to press charges, but it was decided that such an action would only aggravate the incident and possibly inflame further conflict. The man was told to stay away or face arrest.

Of course word travels quickly on the lines, and some of the staff knew the threatening individual. It's been suggested that he is unstable. A stressful upheaval of the community is liable to bring out all types of unsavory characters. I had the sense that this one is mildly psychotic, and it has been confirmed that he is an ex-marine. I watched him walk down the street after he was released, and wondered if he'd be waiting later in the parking lot. The police escorted us to our cars when we left. Today when I got off the lines and back to my vehicle I noticed that someone had tied the shed skin of a large snake around my antennae. Naturally my mind flashed to yesterday. At some level I kind of appreciated the creativity of the gesture, but I was moved to report it "just in case". There's no way of knowing who attached this relic, or when they did it. Needless to say it adds a bit of drama.



Anonymous jefg said...

Be careful out there. There are a lot of crazies out there, and they seem to appear at times like this, as if they have nothing better they can do. As you were amazed by a colleagues restraint, it would seem prudent so as to avoid an incident that provokes an individual or the community. I'm happy to hear you have police in the area.

From my experience, your participation, albeit quiet by your choice, will serve you well with others in the union in the long run. lastly, I would imagine you have your camera in your pocket.

7:20 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Yeah, I'm aware that there are plenty of people waiting to identify a target to strike back against. The district seems to be aware of the potential animosity their tactics could provoke in such a conservative community. This is a learning process for all, since the last strike was over twenty years ago.

As far as my camera is concerned... I have brought it every day, but it seems that if I pulled it out and pointed it at someone, I would just be aggravating an already tense situation.

1:06 AM  

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