Posted by: johnhourihan | October 20, 2013

Get the government out of our lives – Really?


Today it would be called “wrongful firing.”
But back when anger was planted in my 6-year-old soul it was just a big company getting back at the guy who made them pay the Portagese what they earned.
Jack Hourihan and the Donahue brothers, Bill and Ray, were pure Irish.
They walked to work most days, from their homes to the shoe shops, in the heat of summer and the freeze of New England winters. They carried with them, their lunch and their pincers, a sort of combination between a tack hammer and a pliers with the nose bent to a 90 degree angle. Every shop worker had them. Every shop worker’s kid knew they were not to be touched. It was “how we make our living.“
These men worked hard every day, bedlasting, sidelasting, shipping, They were sweating by 9 a.m. and tired by 10, but they worked until the 4 o’clock whistle, they sat at the kitchen table and licked and pasted the chits they got today for finishing cases of shoes into their “chitbooks” ( pocketing a few chits to be cashed in the lean weeks or when a few extra bucks were needed.)
They were the bedrock of American society, and when they got hurt they got laid off. (the 1950s equivalent of a furlough.)
They were  those who actually did work their asses off for the money they made, and the money they made in a lifetime, if they worked hard and were lucky, was about a quarter of a million dollars. That is about $40 a week, for 64 or so years. They began work at 14, and their life expectancy was about 78.
There was no Social Security when they started, so they worked until they died.
Were they taken advantage of? You bet.
Were they overworked and underpaid? You bet.
But when the Portuguese came to town in the 1950s and spread out to the shoe shops looking for work, the owners saw a windfall of profit. The newcomers were hired. They were trained, mostly by my father and his Irish and Italian friends, and put to work.
The new people worked hard supporting families and trying to send their kids to school and make a good life for themselves. They chased the American Dream just as their predecessors had before them. When the three Irishers found that the Portuguese were being underpaid and overworked even more than themselves, they revolted. They fought for a union. And when it came to fruition and brought with it 40-hour weeks, and base pay, and equality for all the workers, my father was fired for what he had done.
He and his wife, and his seven kids, were faced with poverty even deeper than we had become used to. There was no recourse. He was blackballed from the  shops in the area: A union organizer wasn’t wanted.
My mother couldn’t get money from the government, there were no programs, so we ate what we could, and to this day I remember the taste of dandy lion greens, and my anger began to sprout like our subsistence garden that never grew enough. When one of us got sick Doctor Allen would drive up to the house and inoculate everyone. He took whatever my mother could afford as payment. From time to time my uncle brought us food, but not nearly enough for us to eat a healthy diet.
When Scrapper Jack started to drink (who could blame him) there wasn’t even the money he could make working other jobs part time, several at a time.
There was one divorced woman in town, she babysat us in better times. People talked about her. She was unique.
I look now at those men who work manual labor for a living, men who are the backbone of our country, the farmers, construction workers, the  men who build the federally funded road and bridge projects, the truck drivers who travel Eisenhower‘s highways daily.
And so many of them are complaining that the government is too much involved in their lives.
“I want the government out of my life,“ they shout. “Socialist,“ they shout. “If you’re poor, get a job, you lazy bum,“ they scream.
And I think, what the hell are you talking about?
Do you understand what it was like before the government set rules for corporations? Do you know what it was like before health care, and welfare, and rules such as “wrongful firing” and “hostile work environment,” before weekends, and overtime, and paid vacations, and equal pay for equal work, and Medicare, an Social Security?
Do you understand what it would be like if you got what you are demanding?
Do you have any idea what your life and the lives of your families would be like if  you cut the government back and let the corporations take over again?
Think, damn it.
These rules were made to protect us from those bullies who held the choke rope of our paychecks. The government, as inept as it is, is not the enemy.

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Responses

  1. We need to look at the, now few but multiplying, that are in government and are enemies of government. Their soul purpose is to make us believe the government is our enemy. With our help they can end the government as we know it. Then their backers can get all the money they so deserve. Workers will have nobody on their side.

  2. Your dad was a man with guts. And he was always nice to me when I came to visit with your brother. It takes lots of principle and conviction to stand up to tyrants. My family worked in the same shops for years. My Dad sister and older brothers. All really hard workers.

  3. I don’t know if you remember me or not. I used to hang with your brother Dennis. We were best friends. I’m Ken S. We’re talking the sixties. I talked to Dennis a couple of weeks ago. He sounded good and it was great to talk to him. Still has his humor. Anyway John, nice to see you here.

    • Of course I remember you. I taught you how to play House of the Risig Sun on the guitar. Glad to be in touch again.

      ________________________________

  4. My dad and his family before him were Italian imigrants. They all worked hard, sometimes dangerous jobs. While the shop he worked in most of his life managed to keep the unions out, I do recognize that he… and much of what we have today is because of people like your dad. He has my respect and appreciation. We do tend to forget, don’t we…

    Charlie

    • If it wasn’t for a Jewish guy named Morris Share my father would have stayed blackballed, but Morris decide it wasn’t fair and gave my dad a job in his shoe shop.

      ________________________________

  5. Wow! great memory! Nice to hear from you too.


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