Jay Meehan: Workers’ solidarity across language barriers
Mostly, the building blocks of where I grew up came from Europe: Ireland, Italy, Poland, Romania, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, England, Wales, Germany, Spain, Portugal, what was then Yugoslavia, and so on. Everyone spoke everything in an “-ish” sort of way. It was a Western mining town with its own pidgin tongue.
Not that we weren’t schooled in the proper conjugations of English, which we considered, if not the mother tongue, the most useful. It’s just that our neighbors and ourselves chose to honor the beautiful accents and halting rhythms of the recently-arrived to the point where the never-mocking mimicry remains alive and well to this day.
Beginning with my grandfather, to a large extent our family reveled in the diversity of the joint. The evolving culture, made up of many “foreign” subtexts, formed a gestalt of sorts. The result of which shape-shifted into where it became much more than and different from the sum of its parts.
What was missing, of course, the void that prevented the “stew” from becoming a true “gumbo,” was an almost total absence of color. Our Idaho panhandle community as a whole reflected a color scheme somewhere in the “off-white” spectrum. I came of age without any friends of a hue much darker than my own.
The result of this, of course, was an ingrained prejudice against those who were “different.” We, as a generation, graduated with honorific and horrific degrees in racism, homophobia, and most other opinions formed without just grounds or sufficient knowledge, as my friends at Merriam-Webster like to say.
My family was made up of second-generation Irish Catholic bricklayers who punched in at the local non-ferrous smelter. My grandfather helped build it – the smelter that is. That was after he contributed to the assembly of a similar one in up in Trail, British Columbia. He had left school in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at 14 to find a trade.
None of my tribe ever worked underground where the ore that would later be “smelted” in the kilns underwent its geological underpinnings. What we held in common with the miners for the most part, however, related to our collective pasts. We were all of the immigrant labor persuasion.
Coming of age under the influences that shaped me reminds me of the evolutionary processes of the Kaibab squirrel on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Without “interaction” of any sort with its close cousins on the South Rim due to an especially wide gap separating the rims, DNA exchange subsisted in a quite limited context. Those who lived out their lives on the Kaibab Plateau became quite singular. No doubt, they looked down on the “southies” as an inferior branch of the family.
Now, some of my friends were from families who evolved on a rim, almost, too far. They were from what some of us on the labor end came to consider the dark side of the equation – management. The gap separating that subspecies of employee from us could only be quantified via close analysis of visible light within the electromagnetic spectrum.
Doppler red shifts occur when objects relocate in relationship to each other. Since I woke to the phenomenon, there has appeared an obvious distancing of upper management from labor – at least within the current capitalistic spectrum.
And that, initially, is how we arrived at Labor Day or, as it is celebrated in Park City, Miner’s Day. The push and shove between how upper-management distributes the wealth generated by labor has been the elephant in the room for as long as I can remember.
It’s always been at the root of political discussions and defines, for the most part, the two-party system. As I type this, the current Trumpian Supreme Court and the Senate they rode in on are busily researching how to best shrink labor unions and their ability to collectively bargain.
And, I must admit, that by reducing access to education and the polls, participation in our democracy will also shrink. The right remains chagrined over the fact that people other than land-owning white males are allowed to engage with the process. That’s what this philosophical brouhaha is all about.
The days of fire hoses and attack dogs continue to reside just out of the frame. I see little difference between Bull Connor and the Birmingham of the ’60s and Trump’s white supremacist movement of today.
Joe Hill lives. To the barricades!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.
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