The Beginning, the End and the Concept
With Pidgin's backroom agreement on a two-tier wage scale in the forthcoming negotiations, labour relations between the large corporation and its two large North American unions took on a certain orderliness. Things were now falling neatly into place for the Boss. The wage concessions he'd promised senior executives at the hugely profitable business where he was in charge of labour relations were as good as in the bag.
As soon as he and Pidgin had finished shaking on it, the Boss made a beeline to SHU headquarters where he leaned on Ferret for a two-tier deal as well. Ferret was cool to the Boss's spiel about the company's imaginary financial woes. Realizing that this might be a hard sell, the Boss hinted that, if SHU could see its way clear to a two-tier, he would look favorably on their demands for voluntary rec at the dozens of new stores the company would be opening over the next two years. Ferret warmed to the idea quickly. Stinky Ritz would be chairing SHU's bargaining committee he told the Boss, and he'd see to it that Stinky was mindful of the company's needs.
It was hard to believe that but four months ago he was on the verge of ruin as thousands of workers were weeks away from voting in the union of their choice. But he'd pulled their continued oppression out of the fire; thanks to an aspiring union leader he called Piggy. Thanks to Piggy's artful manipulation of officials at the URAC International office, the Boss now had both unions right where he wanted them: One under each thumb.
"Ah the irony of it," the Boss mused to the apprentice as they flew home from their successful mission. "These bastards wanted joint bargaining and I told 'em to go stuff it. I've just got them to agree to my wage demands and we haven't even started negotiations. Now that's joint bargaining for you! Be careful what you wish for my friends".
"Are we really going to give SHU voluntary rec?" the apprentice asked him over dinner.
"Of fucking course not!" The Boss laughed. "I don't have approval for that. In fact, the executive committee made it very clear to me months ago that there would be no more voluntary recs - ever. They've had it with unions completely, any unions, no matter where they come from or who's running them. Those new stores are going to open non-union and our mission is going to be to keep them that way".
"That's what I thought," the apprentice responded with a sly look.
"OK, what I'm doing to Ferret ain't nice," the Boss explained. "I'm leading him down a garden path to get something I want but that's the kind of guy I am. If he trusts me about anything, that's his problem. Face it, in his line of work, getting screwed by management guys is an occupational hazard".
"He'll be some pissed though, won't he?" the apprentice asked.
"Oh sure, but I don't really give a fuck," he responded. "I said I'd bring home a wage cut in these negotiations and I aim to do just that. For Ferret to buy a two tier I have to hold out a pretty damn big carrot and there's no carrot like voluntary rec. I'll dangle it in front of him until the bastard agrees to our wage proposal. Then I'll yank it back. I'll tell him I don't have a mandate anymore to give him voluntary rec or that Stinky's done something to piss me off or both. He'll eat it at that point."
"But isn't there a risk that Stinky will just walk from the table?" the apprentice kept after him, not quite understanding how even the Boss could be so underhanded.
"Not by that time", the Boss explained nonchalantly. "By then he'll have been on his knees too long to suddenly morph into a union leader. That's how it goes with these guys. He'll be pissed at me and he'll spend a lot of sleepless nights figuring out how he's going to fuck me back, but he won't walk from the table. He's not coming into these negotiations with any expectation of pulling off a strike. He won't be ready for it at the eleventh hour. Plus most of his members hate him anyway. He's got all those pissed off URAC supporters that got handed back to him, don't forget. Those miserable bitches aren't gonna follow him anywhere 'cept maybe to the edge of a goddamned cliff so they can push him the hell off".
Now that the unions' leaders were agreed on the wage scale for their members - the only thing that really mattered to the company - it was time for the divvying up of the spoils.
At the LRB a few days later, URAC's spectacular organizing campaign was laid to rest - finally and officially. The hopes and aspirations of thousands of working women ended in a perfunctory shuffling of paper among a bunch of men in suits.
Seated on opposite sides of a large boardroom table were Stinky Ritz and a group of lawyers representing SHU, Mack Unocogleone and the lead attorney for URAC. The International had sent Unocogleone, the campaign's coordinator, to seal the deal that Piggy hammered out in a bar a few weeks earlier. At the head of the table sat the Boss, his apprentice at his side.
"I didn't bring my ambulance-chaser today," the Boss chided Stinky and Unocogleone. "Don't need him. I know exactly how this is going to go down". Stinky bristled but Unocogleone smiled and nodded respectfully.
An LRB Officer, a rumpled little man with an enormous overbite, presided over the activities. Reams of legal documents were circulated for signature. One after another, Unocogleone signed withdrawals of all of URAC's 200 applications for certification followed by a dozen or so unfair labour practice complaints. When he was done, the Boss casually dropped in front of him voluntary recognition agreements for the 20 stores URAC was getting.
"Thank you", Unocogleone said politely and the two shook hands.
The apprentice cringed. Civility was expected among "the parties" at the LRB but Unocogleone's graciousness towards the Boss looked almost genuine. She had given him the benefit of every doubt as her worst fears about Piggy's backroom dealing were realized. No doubt, his future had initially looked uncertain and he dreaded having to return to the warehouse job he'd held before the International made him a rep. But he was recently assigned to another big URAC local. His future was now quite secure and it would seem that neither the International nor Canadian President-in-waiting Piggy had an axe to grind with him.
Granted, having had the rug pulled out from under him after such an intense and highly successful campaign must have been a bone-jarring event, but Unocogleone was making the transition from tireless organizer to obedient bag carrier almost seamlessly. He and the apprentice met for drinks after her return from the meetings with Pidgin and Ferret in Washington. It would be the last of what had been dozens of covert meetings between them as the URAC campaign had progressed. There was a certain cheery vacuousness about Unocogleone now that she couldn't quite comprehend.
"I'm trying to understand what happened here, Mack", she said to him. "None of this makes sense to me at all. You and Fred had the International's approval for this campaign. They supported you from the very beginning and they knew what was going on every step of the way. How is it that at the last minute - just as they're about to get certified - they pull the rug out?"
"The International decided that it wanted peace with SHU", Unocogleone said flatly.
"Oh come on, that's bullshit," she shot back surprised that he was laying on the party line. "We both know that Piggy went and pissed in your well and that the Boss put him up to it. OK, that kind of backstabbing goes on all over the place but I'm having a lot of trouble with why the International Pres was so quick to buy Piggy's bullshit and why Fred didn't fight any of this early on, when I first warned him."
"Fred did his duty as a good unionist", Unocogleone explained. "If he took Piggy on, he'd have split the union and that wouldn't be good for anybody."
"Split the union?" she said, disbelieving. "Maybe there's a part of the union that needs to be split off and left at the curb. Piggy is nothing but an opportunist. He's out for himself and no one else. I've told you how he sucks up to the Boss. I'm having a lot of trouble with your take on this. What kind of union is URAC anyway?"
"You've got to understand that the International has a lot of things to consider", Unocogleone said earnestly. "There's a war being waged on labour all across North America. There's a lot going on that the International President doesn't share with us because he can't. It's really sensitive. He is building alliances with other unions and that's important for the battle that's coming up with the employers. SHU is a natural ally for URAC because we're both in the service industry."
"Look, " he continued, "I think this whole ordeal has been an eye opener for both unions. The leaders have learned a lot. I think that both unions have a great opportunity to work together and get a good deal at negotiations."
"Are you fuckin' crazy?" she asked incredulously, "They've both agreed to concessions and we haven't even started bargaining."
"There's no way that'll fly", Uncogleone was dismissive. "I'm sure Pidgin was just trying to get the relationship off to a good start with the Boss. That's how they do things at the International. It's very sophisticated. Sort of like international diplomacy. But the union will never be able to agree to concessions in this round of bargaining because the members will never accept concessions. We're a democratic union remember? The members get to vote on their contracts. We've still got some really strong activists in those stores and they'll never hold still for anything like that."
"Like they got to vote on which union they were going to get?" she responded. "Somehow I can't see Piggy's union caring a whole lot about what the members want".
"I think you'll see that things work out OK", Unocogleone was reassuring. "Piggy's not in control yet and there are a few strong contenders for the leadership".
"So what are you going to now?" he asked, abruptly changing the subject.
"Oh I don't know", she responded. "I'd thought that I would want to work for a union but after this whole experience, I'm not so sure. Maybe I'll try to be a good corporate guy for a while. I'm beginning to think that you can do more good working from the inside than from the outside."
"You're not going to stay with the company are you? They're such a bunch of crooks", he said.
"The whole world is full of crooks in case you haven't noticed," she said, suddenly wondering why she had even bothered.
"Speaking of crooks, how'd that thing with the cops work out?" he asked.
"Well nobody's been hauled off in handcuffs yet, in case you're wondering if you missed something on CityPulse News. They dumped it. I told you that a month ago. It was just after Piggy started getting active, come to think of it," she said.
"Well, maybe they just weren't finding anything," he said pensively. "Cops always think union guys are crooked".
"They weren't just looking for crooked union guys, even though there were a few of those floating around. They wanted to me go into the witness protection program and I said 'fuck that shit'. That's when they said they weren't taking it further", she explained. "They must have been finding something that interested them. They were really into it for a while. I'm not sure what changed their minds really. They kept telling me that there was nothing worse than a dead witness, but I don't know. There was a lot of stuff on those tapes and a lot of paper that I turned over as well."
"I'd still like to think that one day you'll come to work for us," he said optimistically." I don't think you could do it right now, because of who you work for but maybe you could get on at the LRB and then transition over..."
"Did you hear anything I just said?" she asked incredulously. "I don't think so Mack. I'm not sure how you've been able to reconcile everything that's happened but I sure can't. Why the hell would I want to work for URAC? You guys call yourselves the 'organizing union' but you've just agreed that you'll never organize any of the company's workers again - ever. What the hell is that all about? What if some of them wanted to join URAC in a hundred years or so from now? What are the sons of Pidgin and Piggy going to tell them? 'Oh sorry, a hundred years ago our forefathers promised some old fucker from the corporate office that we wouldn't and we're sticking to our promise'. To me, all you guys are beginning to look alike."
"That's not fair", he said sounding a little slighted.
"It is fair", she responded getting up to leave. "You've got something in common with the Boss, Stinky, the whole lot of those miserable shits. You don't believe in anything."
Negotiations progressed just as the Boss had planned. Within a couple of months he had identical concessionary agreements with SHU and URAC. Stinky Ritz was livid with him when, at the last minute, the Boss sanctimoniously announced that he could not give SHU voluntary recognition for its new stores. Angry and confused, Stinky nonetheless signed a tentative agreement with a new two-tier wage scale anyway.
Pidgin made good on his commitment and signed an identical deal after only a couple of bargaining meetings. The Boss especially appreciated the professionalism of the URAC negotiators who acknowledged in advance that they were going to sign a "me too" based on the SHU settlement but needed to do a little song and dance for their bargaining committee.
Ratification was not an issue with either union. SHU representatives presented their tentative contract as the best deal that could be had under the circumstances. URAC followed suit, telling their members that they couldn't possibly do better than SHU. Current employees got a percentage increase but new hires would be paid much less. That's how it goes in the industry the workers were told, even as stories of the company's skyrocketing profits appeared in the local press.
Control of the URAC members was handed to the quiet pale man who had been introduced to the Boss a few weeks earlier by Piggy. The new members would be folded into a large local of which the quiet pale man was president. The few remaining activists at the URAC stores were appointed stewards, sent to a lot conferences and promised more of the same if they did as their leaders instructed. The URAC threat had been vanquished. Freddie Beaton retired and Pigman Godcliff ascended the throne that the International had prepared for him.
The Boss celebrated his victory over the unions. Although his old pal Piggy had rescued him from an almost certain firing but a few months earlier, he felt that he owed him no favors. This was a game and he was the winner. Piggy must do what every good loser should - submit.
Not that he had much to worry about anyway as neither union had any desire to take him on. Their leaders were distracted or could care less. Stinky Ritz was plotting retribution against the Boss not the company. Mack Unocogleone had lulled himself into a stupor with the party line. Piggy wasn't a union guy anyway. Ferrette was happy as long as the per capita arrived on time.
"Yay, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death," the Boss recited a favourite line as he hoisted a celebratory glass, "I fear no motherfucker because I am the biggest, baddest sonofabitch in the valley!"
The good guys and the bad guys, so readily discernable for so long, had bled into a mottled blob of expensive suits and shameless self-interest. They were no longer good or bad - they were a concept - they were "the concept". As it was in the beginning...
It was a short job interview, all of about 30 seconds. He'd looked her up and down, asked if she could type and if she minded working for a foul-mouthed bastard who smoked, drank and leered. She gave the right answers and was hired on the spot - the new secretary to the Vice President of Corporate Labour Relations.
She had no previous office experience and knew nothing of labour relations but that didn't matter to him. He liked her because she was young and working class - his kind of girl - and he wasted no time in getting around to duties that were not in the job description. To his horror, she turned him down. To his even greater horror, he could not bring himself to fire her for it, although he'd turfed uncooperative office toys for a lot less than that. He persisted for a while in his advances and with each rejection, became more attached. Before long, he was positively obsessive about her even though neither of them could quite understand why.
For her part, she could barely stand him. He was a pretentious aging wretch of a man who drank profusely, boasted and bullied his way around the office and commanded a circle of labour relations low lifes and high fliers, all with the same derisive management style. He spent his days hanging out in expensive places with union reps, LRB guys and the company's lawyers. By night he prowled decrepit watering holes in the city's poorest districts, flashing his Gold Card, buying rounds of drinks for the down and outers and picking up their women. Later on, when he became attached to her, he would sometimes take her with him on his "diving" expeditions - as he called them - and would introduce her around to the regulars as his daughter who had a very important job at a large company.
She never had any illusions about why he'd hired her and even made a bet with the other secretaries on how long she'd last after brushing him off the first time. She told him that she respected him way too much for that kind of thing and that it was not professional to be getting boned by the boss. The word would get out and then nobody would ever respect her. An ambitious girl had to be careful about things like this. She said that maybe the two of them could make the new Corporate Labour Relations Department a success if they concentrated on their work and boned others on their own time. Besides all of that, she told him, it might upset her boyfriend - the mean looking dude with the motorcycle who sometimes came to meet her for lunch - and there was no telling what might happen.
It made perfect sense to him but only because it came from her. Almost overnight he changed his behavior from lascivious boss to doting mentor. He concluded that she had great potential as a labour relations specialist and he fawned over her at every opportunity. He deluged her with labour relations books and legal journals, sent her to courses and lavished her with corporate perks and personal gifts.
Under the company's succession planning program, he designated her his protégé, thereafter bringing her along with him on his travels and hanging out with her - wining and dining - on the company's tab when they were not on the road. He promoted her to Labour Relations Manager got her a company car, an office of her own and generous expense privileges. Her new job took her out of the office frequently and when she was away, he missed her. He made it a point for the two of them to spend as much time together as they could. It was important, he would tell her, that they had a lot of time to talk. There were some things that she was going to have to get up to speed on if she wanted to progress in her career.
"This is all part of your development," he would say. "There's a lot to learn that those books won't teach you. This labour relations shit isn't really about theories and rules and people living in peace and harmony. You gotta know that shit so you can manipulate the assholes that believe it but that's not what this game is all about."
"This is just a guy scene where guys with big egos see who gets to be the biggest, baddest sonofabitch in the valley," he explained. "Always remember that and there's nothing that will ever confuse you or throw you for a loop".
His job, he told her, was to keep up relations with the company's unions, especially SHU which had the largest number of the company's employees and required special handling. The employees were at one time represented by another union, one that merged with SHU a while ago. SHU was a tough union but one that a company could deal with. It was full of corrupt guys with shady connections and the company needed a guy who wasn't afraid to mix and mingle with them. He was their guy. They hired him to do a job and gave him the tools to do it.
"The name of the game is to keep the union's leaders happy - to a point", he explained during one of their earlier chats. "You know, make sure the union dues are in the mail every month, take the reps out for dinner, buy 'em a hooker or two, take care of employees' beefs and make sure the managers aren't screwing anyone too badly. This way, when it's time to negotiate - and that's the only thing that really matters - they're going to be receptive to the company's needs".
Not all unions could be dealt with in this business-like manner, he went on. Some were filled with militant commies who wanted to destroy our way of life. The militants were the worst bastards and it was part of his job to make sure they never got into any of the company's operations. You just couldn't deal with them on any level. They couldn't be bought, distracted, intimidated - nothing.
He told her that he had a special relationship with the CEO of the company. He'd been brought in to do special, sensitive work. That's why he was a Vice President and reported directly to the CEO. He insisted on every perk he could think of - including a fully stocked bar in his lavish office - and got every one.
It didn't take her long to suspect that something unusual happening with the company. The more that she read the labour relations books he gave her, the more it seemed that there was some really strange shit going on.
A few years earlier, a fledgling union called NURT organized thousands of workers at the company's retail outlets across the country almost overnight. A master collective agreement was signed off after the first two stores were certified and all ensuing stores were folded in as they were certified. For all the trail blazing it had done in the service industry, NURT was very low profile. The man who did the organizing disappeared shortly after the last of 200 stores were certified. Negotiations for a renewal of the master were over and done with in a matter of days. There were very few grievances and maybe a couple of arbitration hearings.
"The company was very enlightened", the Boss told her. "The workers wanted a union and the company wasn't going to get in their way. They started their own union and it was a reasonable union to deal with. When it was time to sit down to negotiate, they hammered out a deal quickly. Nothing wrong with that."
Everything was rolling along like a well-oiled machine until just recently, when NURT merged with the large North American union, SHU. The Boss said this was because NURT's leader was afraid of possible raids by those militant-infested unions. Again, the employees had a say in the decision. There were some meetings to discuss the merger and they could attend and voice their concerns. He thought maybe there had even been a vote of some kind. The company respected their wishes. "Besides", he said cryptically, "SHU was a good pick for these employees".
"Why was that?" She asked.
"Goddamned immigrant women need to be kept in line and reminded how good they've got it", he responded.
It would have all been pretty convincing but for the fact that everyone who was anyone around the corporate office hated unions and had nothing but disdain for the workers. At many of the stores, they were punished for the most trivial infractions. Those who stood up to their managers were usually fired as were, more disturbingly, those who disagreed with their union reps. They had a tough row to hoe and she felt a certain connection with them. She'd worked in her fair share of crappy jobs prior to becoming the Boss's protégé but nothing quite compared to the miserable conditions these workers had to put up with. Why wasn't their union doing more for them? According to the labour relations books, SHU ought to have a lot of power. It had all these thousands of workers in a company that would not do well in a strike. Why didn't they use it?
The answer presented itself in stark, unambiguous terms one day when she was poking around in a box of old files that the Boss had left for her to organize. There it all was as plain as day: There were notes and internal memos about the company's strategy to unionize itself. Weekly status reports from the mysterious man who'd done the organizing. Lists of workers from each store showing who had signed a union card and who had not. Records of payments to the organizer from a prominent law firm. Further reports from a private eye firm about a stepped up campaign. They organized themselves, she thought incredulously. How the hell did they get away with it? There were laws against this type of thing. She'd read about them in the labour law books.
A sense of loathing came over her. She thought of all the Labour Board guys who came to shmooze the Boss, the farcical mostly-drunk most-of-the-time union reps that sought out his advice on almost everything, the strange rumors that she heard out at the stores about a conspiracy between the whole lot of them. She thought of the way that the Boss and the union reps spoke about the workers, the names they called them and the subtle fear that sometimes crept into their discussions whenever some problematic bitch was being discussed behind closed doors in the Boss's office. Now she knew. They were all in it together. Even the LRB guys. They knew what was going on too and they were...having lunch with the Boss.
There was more. In an envelope stamped confidential and sealed with the Boss's signature she found a cassette tape. The Boss was fond of secretly tape recording meetings. He had a stack of tapes in his desk from various discussions with LRB guys, union reps, lawyers, even the guy who came to set up his speakerphone. The sealed envelope suggested that whatever was on this tape was more than just your average drunk talk among suits. After several days she mustered up the courage to take it home, open the envelope and play it.
After the initial crackling and clicking sounds, there were voices, some familiar and some not. She recognized the Boss and Stinky Ritz with whom she was already acquainted. There was a smooth-talking guy she'd never met but would later come to know as Ferret. She recognized the leader of NURT who now had a job as a business agent with SHU and there were other people too - the lawyers. They were discussing the proposed merger between NURT and SHU.
A heated discussion was going on about the urgency of the merger and about potential threats from various unions. Stinky and the other guy from SHU were fanning the flames. The merger had to go down and fast. NURT could not hold on much longer. Various rival unions were getting ready to raid. SHU was the company's only hope.
"Hey, I got a few irons in the fire," NURT's leader said at one point. "Including a very motivated buyer."
"Stick your irons up your ass," she heard the Boss shout at him. "That's not your call to make, it's mine".
More heated discussion. The Boss was getting quite aggressive with NURT's leader. "Name your fucking price", she heard him say.
"Five hundred", she heard NURT's leader said.
"OK", she heard the Boss say after a prolonged pause.
"OK, OK, deal, we have a deal," various voices piped up.
"Now you recall our understanding Mr. Ritz", the Boss said. "When we negotiate, the company will have certain expectations."
"I recall", Stinky Ritz responded. "Don't worry, I've got a long memory guv'nor".
There were some shuffling sounds and the tape switched off.
She sat for a while staring into space as the reality of what she'd just heard sunk in. They sold them! She whispered to herself. Fucking evil bastards! They sold them like a bunch of pigs in a market. She played the tape again and another time after that. Each time their bartering sounded more and more vile.
There was something unfathomably shocking about it all. Something deceptive and ghastly. It was bad enough that the workers put up with shabby treatment from their bosses and their union reps but this?! To be deceived and traded away like so many things by these sleazy old men. It was the most profound insult heaped on top of many injuries.
"I've got to do something about this", she told the best friend in whom she'd confided since she'd started working at the corporate office. "But what? Where do you go about stuff like this?"
"How about the labour board?" her friend suggested.
"Are you kidding? Those guys party with him", she replied.
"The cops?" her friend asked.
"Cops... get the best dope. Listen," she said in a low voice, "There are cops in this scene, OK? Shit, I don't know what I'm going to do. These guys are such fucking creeps and this pig thinks I'm his apprentice!"
"Why don't you just quit?" her friend suggested.
"I don't know", the apprentice said. "If I stay, I'll be dirty like they are. I know that - it's just a matter of time. If I leave, nothing will change. They'll go on and on with their scam. I doubt the next secretary will think about fucking them up. I feel so disconnected from everything. I have this urge to stay you know. To find out more about what they're doing, to record it. Yeah, that's the word that keeps coming to me all the time. To make a record. Shit I feel really strange these days."
"So stay", her friend said at last. "Everything happens for a reason. Maybe you'll make a movie about it one day".
"Oh yeah, Crapocalypse Now! 'I love the smell of vodka martini puke in the morning'", she laughed mimicking the Boss's manner of speech when he wanted to sound imposing. "You're right, I'm in."
Realizing that he'd given her the files for a reason, she asked him about them several days later.
"So what do you think about all that?" he asked with a grin.
"Well, I think it's exciting to be part of something so sophisticated," she replied with what was by then a well-rehearsed line.
That was all he needed to hear. As she sat dumbfounded, he ordered another round and proceeded to tell her everything, the whole story. He told her all about the scheming, the wheeling and dealing and he told her about "the concept"- something he'd developed, brought to market and was very proud of.
"The concept" was the state of the art in sweetheart unionism; a more sophisticated, more effective and more difficult to teardown version of the traditional sweetheart union.
"The time for something like this was right, make no mistake about it," he explained. "In Canada, businesses will never have the same clout to beat off organizing campaigns as they do in the States. A few years ago, most CEO's with half a brain realized we're never gonna have laws like that here - not in a zillion years. You just can't say or do a fuckin' thing in this country when a union comes sniffin' around so a union-busting alternative was needed. At about the same time also, there was a lot of talk about possible organizing in the service industry by some of the worst most commie-infested unions in the country. There was this groundswell thing happening. They even wrote about it in the papers. All these little clerks and clerkettes were going to rise up. It was getting a lot of people nervous, let me tell you".
"Complicating the problem", he went on, "was the fact that many service industry companies had chain operations. If a union got in at one place, it might spread like wild fire to others. Before you knew it, a whole chain would be organized and that meant game over for the business. A strike would kill your business and a big wage hike would kill your business, so what the hell could you do?"
"You could set up an in-house sweetheart like an old employee association but that wouldn't work well in a large multi-unit operation. In a single location, you could recruit some loyal working stiff and leave him to sign up the other working stiffs. There might be a couple hundred of them at most and, if he was trained up properly, he should be able to get most of them within a couple of weeks. It wasn't so simple to do this at dozens of locations spread across the country. Working stiffs don't have the organizing skills needed to come in and sign up a large number of strangers in a hurry. Even if they could, there's a danger that they'd start believing their own bullshit and actually trying to represent somebody. On top of that you needed someone who cold fend off enquiries from the media, the labour movement and other nosey pricks. Somebody who could manage a budget without fucking off with it, run some helpers if needed and - most importantly - be counted on to keep their mouth shut about the whole goddamned thing when it was over. So there's a special set of skills that was needed. What was needed was a professional. Someone who knew the ropes and could be counted on to get the job done quickly and quietly. Someone who already had a fairly good idea of what was important to him - money and status - and would not be prone to developing any troubling crises of conscience. You had to look outside for a guy who fit that bill.
"Where would you look for a guy like that?" she asked.
"In the ranks of big North American unions", he replied, "there are a lot of ambitious guys who want to get themselves ahead. They're not into all that ideological shit. They see what they do as a job. They want a bigger and better job. Running your own union would be a dream come true for a lot of them, whether it's as president, business manager or whatever. Another plus is that a lot of them are already dirty in some way. That's a good thing because it means that they're all right with being dirty and won't have a problem getting even dirtier. You need the right guy. It's like hiring a sales manager".
Then there was the whole set up of the union, he went on. The union itself would need to make like a real union. "Employee association" sounds too much like a sweetheart, so it would have to be called something that sounded like a union - one with a national or even North American orientation. Unions, media and LRB's would be less likely to pry too far into its business or throw too many rocks. A large independent union would always command respect from most labour leaders. In case its leader ever got the urge to merge, they'd all line up to kiss his ass and play let's make a deal. Nobody would be too quick to clip his grass. It's sort of a code among union leaders.
They would take the concept to market through word of mouth: through the vast network of labour relations lawyers and consultants whose clients were crapping their pants about getting unionized. "We figured the concept would sell itself", he said proudly, "and it did."
Once a client, usually the CEO or owner of a company, gave the green light, the whole thing would be arranged through a bunch of lawyers. That was very important. Lawyers had this solicitor-client privilege and couldn't be made to spill the beans on what they - or their clients - were up to.
"Lawyers are the whores of labour relations", he would say. "They get as dirty as you wanna be and nobody checks between their legs to see who's been there".
The Company was one of his first clients, he told her. He'd set up a couple of unions using the concept method before, but this was by far his biggest and most challenged gig. He created NURT - he, Stinky Ritz and a big shot labour lawyer. The three of them wrote NURT's constitution, devised an organizing strategy, found a capable organizer and provided him with resources. Once he hit the road and started organizing, they monitored his progress and made sure the applications for certification were processed without undue hassles at the LRB. The organizer did a stellar job and disappeared with his reward. A replacement was found who would be good at the day-to-day stuff involved in running a union and working cooperatively with the Boss.
"It's one hell of a concept", he told her. "I'm thinking that one day I might expand, you know sell it to other businesses. Union phobia is still out there and growing. Could be a great opportunity for an ambitious young thing like you. I'll need to take on a partner."
"Well Boss, I'm overwhelmed", she said hardly believing what she'd heard. The Boss was oblivious to her growing revulsion. Confident that he'd found a partner in crime, he began to involve her in his schemes.
Within a few months she was running a "concept" organizer as NURT was organizing another one of the company's operating divisions. The organizer, a rep from a "real" union, had been recruited by the Boss especially for this assignment. She wanted organizing experience so that she could get a more responsible job with her union and thought this was a great opportunity. It did not take long for the apprentice to realize that the cheerful, well-dressed union rep didn't even know that what she was doing was illegal. Some are evil and some are just plain stupid the apprentice thought each day when the chirpy thing would call in with her organizing report.
Immersed as she was in the bad and the stupid, she went out quietly seeking out the good. She thought she'd found it too the night that she arrived, her heart pounding, at a downtown hotel suite to meet Fred Beaton, a high ranking official of URAC - a good honest union she'd been told by people high up in the local labour community.
He seemed a very decent man, a veteran of many campaigns for working people. He spoke at length about the history of URAC and of the battles his division had won. It all sounded legit. She'd read about some of this stuff in the labour relations books. He didn't look or sound like the sleazy union guys who visited with the Boss although he seemed to know most of them. He told her that he'd long suspected what was going on but had never met anyone from the inside who was willing to talk about it. He marveled at how much she knew and the circles she hung out in.
By the end of their long first discussion he asked her if she would be willing to testify against the Boss and his associates if proceedings against them were commenced either at the LRB or in another venue. She said she would provided that he didn't jerk her around. Her conditions were simple: That he hook her up with one of his best lawyers, that he not reveal her identity to anyone without her prior agreement and that she have a veto over any strategy that involved her. Beaton readily agreed. To his credit, he never reneged on his commitment.
He went on to fight one hell of a fight and organized up a storm. His campaign was a model for organizing in the service industry. The workers believed in him, in his union and, most importantly, in themselves. It was like the workers who had organized back in the lawless days. It was spectacular to watch it unfold. These people had no doubts. They scared the hell out of the Boss. Senior executives at the corporate office were beginning to talk about life with URAC in their stores like it was an eventuality.
Then, brought down by the sleazy Piggy, Beaton folded his tent and disappeared quietly - just like the shadowy organizers in the concept. "They start out from different points, but they all come to the same place. Wonder why that is?" she wondered to herself as she left Unocogleone in the bar having just told him that he believed in nothing and wandering off into the night.
Several years passed before the apprentice saw him again. After his stunning victory over the unions and a successful second round of concessionary bargaining two years later, he'd decided it was time to pack it in. The company sent him off with a long golden handshake. She had moved on before his retirement and shunned contact with him for a long time after. But recently she'd heard that he was dying and so she sought him out for one last meeting.
They met in a bar, just like in the old days. She found him, a small, wizened heap of yellowing skin perched on a barstool, sucking at a cigarette and nursing a tall drink. He greeted her warmly, obviously delighted to see her.
"I've missed you my son", he said laughing and coughing up phlegm. "I hear about you from time to time. You've done well".
They talked for a long time about the old days, reliving the highs and the lows and all the great dirty tricks. Finally, he asked her, "So what are you going to do with the rest of your life?"
"Don't know", she replied. "I think that I would like to write about all that stuff one day".
He looked up from his glass and smiled broadly, "Oh shit, please, please, please do it! You have to. I sometimes thought that's what you might do. Make sure you give me credit for everything that's due to me. Tell the whole story, from beginning to end. Take no prisoners. Make sure you write about the concept too, remember the concept?"
"Sure I do", she replied, surprised at his glee about the notion of a book. "Whatever became of the concept?"
"Well, you know it's still out there. It didn't really pan out at the company but that's because there were a few bugs to be worked out still. The company was one of the first places to use the concept. In the end, they did all right. The deal I got with SHU and URAC is as good as a sweetheart. I mean, what the hell? You can't pay people much less can you?"
"What was the biggest problem with the concept?" she asked.
"There's two kinds of people in the world," he replied, "Those that believe in something and those that don't. It's the first kind that'll kill you if you're doing something like the concept. Those broads that started the raid, they were true believers. Freddie Beaton was some kind of half-assed believer - in the end he believed in two different things and it really fucked him up. Whoever the hell was helping him was a believer. These believers are a wild card. You have to keep 'em out of the picture or they can really fuck things up. It's hard to do to because you never know by looking at somebody whether they're a believer or not. That if anything is the biggest threat to a plan like the concept".
"You said that the concept is still out there", she asked, "Out where?"
"Well, when something cutting edge like this hits the street, there are a lot of people waiting to see how well it works and whether it's got potential for their outfit. There were a lot of people in our industry watching - back then - and some grabbed it and ran with it on their own".
"Who were they?" she pressed him.
"Seek and you will find", he said winking.
"I'll get right on it", she said.