One of Us
In the days that followed URAC's giveback of thousands of the workers it had organized at in a daring and very successful "raid", to SHU, the union most of them were escaping, the workers' anger boiled over. In the company's Labour Relations Department the phones rang constantly. Unable to get answers from their union representatives, some of the workers turned, in desperation, to the company. Some of them accused the large corporation of complicity in the deal while others simply wanted to know what was going on. Some wanted to know why neither SHU nor URAC representatives were returning their calls. Those who were able to reach URAC's campaign coordinator got what was now a familiar mantra: The International had spoken and the International knew what was best. It was up to them to work with SHU and make it a great union.
The Boss gave his apprentice the task of speaking with each one of the workers who called in and giving them a consistent message: No, the company had nothing to do with it, she would tell them. It was those unions again, wheeling and dealing. This is what they're all about. Yes, we understand that it must be very upsetting. No, there's nothing we can do about it. No, we do not know when you'll have a new contract. That's up to your union. Yes, we know it's been a long time since you had a raise. Sorry.
The Boss also asked her to take down the names of workers who were particularly upset. These would be the hard-core URAC supporters. They would be gotten rid of at the first opportunity. With the deal in the bag, the Boss was growing vindictive. They would pay and pay dearly for their disloyalty to both the company and to SHU, he announced to the apprentice over dinner one evening. She was taken aback by his vehemence.
"I thought you'd said the workers had just been led down a garden path by URAC", she said to him. "Do you think it's wise to go booting them out? It might backfire if we want to see URAC decertified".
"No", he replied, "I've thought about that and I don't think we can risk having them around. Sure, they'll have some sympathizers jumping up and down when they get the axe, but within a few days they'll be forgotten. That's the way it goes. It'll send a strong message out to the others as well".
"We booted a few of them during the campaign and that didn't seem to scare the rest of them off", the apprentice reminded him. "We even had to take a couple of them back".
"True, but things are different now", he replied. "A couple of them got back in but most are still waiting for hearing dates. They're in the pile of unfair labour practices that URAC has agreed to withdraw. They aren't going anywhere except away. There's a strong message in that itself for the other rabble-rousers. When they see a few more big mouths going out the door, there won't be any doubt in their little pea brains. See, back when the fight was on, they were all excited about the union and standing tall and all that solidarity crap but now it's all over. The company won. Their union dumped them. It's a little deflating".
"So why crap on them any more? Don't get me wrong Boss, it's your call as always but I'm concerned about how a rash of firings might impact on our new human resources strategy. You know, the "Employer of Choice" thing that we're wheeling out in the next fiscal. I just don't want the shitdisturbers pissing on our parade. I know you think the whole thing is a crock and so do I but it'll boost our fame around the corporate office in very rewarding ways", she said winking at him slyly.
"Hmmm, that's a good point. You're always on the ball with this office politicking. I'll think about it but you know, this radicalism is like a cancer. Once it gets into you, it never leaves. The more you shitdisturb, the more you want to shitdisturb. When working stiffs shitdisturb it makes them feel powerful and you know what? When you think you're powerful, you're on your way to being powerful. It's a prerequisite. All you need after that is some fuel".
"You mean a drink?" she said, hoisting hers.
"No, you need energy. Energy is fuel. Anger is good fuel. It keeps you going even when everybody thinks you're nuts", he said suddenly lost in thought. "These bitches are angry and they don't have any good anger suppressants like big mortgages or expensive lifestyles to make 'em think twice. I'm telling you, the worst thing you can ever let happen with a bunch of working stiffs is give 'em a sense of power. They got nothing to lose and nowhere to fall".
"No, no", he continued more resolutely now, "We gotta douse this. I can't take a chance. Besides all that, I'm a miserable old fuck and I'm feeling spiteful. Everyone will have to pay. You'll need to manage the fallout once the whacking begins. Tell the corporate HR committee dorks that these loudmouths aren't going to make us the employer of choice anyway. The sooner we get 'em out, the better."
"What about the private eyes we have out on Fred Beaton and his organizers?" she asked. "Do you want to keep them out there a while longer or is it time to call off the dogs? They're not turning up anything useful".
"Nothing at all, huh?" The Boss asked disappointed.
"No, nada" she replied. "No criminal records, no bankruptcies, no women on the side - at least not that they could find - no messy divorces. Shit, these guys live like monks. We've run up one helluva tab for a bunch of reports that would put you to sleep".
"That's a bummer. Yeah, call off the dogs at least for now. Damn, that's disappointing; I was hoping to have something juicy in time for bargaining. Guess I'll have to think of something extra special for that bastard Beaton. Him I've got a score to settle with and it's personal".
"How's that Boss", she asked. "You've always said this whole industrial relations gig is just a game. "We won the game, why should we waste our time on Beaton and his flunkies?"
"It is a game", he said intently. "But Beaton didn't play the game. In the game we don't fight people, we fight organizations - companies and unions - it never gets personal. Beaton attacked me personally. Right from the beginning, he pissed on me in public. He besmirched my character and my good name; he said I was a slimy prick who set up sweethearts. True or not, these things should not ever have been said. That's not the way the game is played".
"What about the working stiffs?" The apprentice asked. "What's their part in the game?"
"Oh them", the Boss replied derisively. "They're not in the game. They're not supposed to be anyway. Know what would happen if they ever got in the game? They'd fucking win! Because there are so damned many of them. They've got the numbers. They can shut us down that's why we have to get rid of the wannabe players. Are you getting any names?"
"There really hasn't been anybody who's sounded like a diehard so far. I think things are settling down. Most of the calls are just about details. Who their union is, how they can contact them, when there will be a new contract, that sort of stuff," she lied.
It was a good thing that the Boss rarely ventured into the stores and was mostly shunned by the managers. Otherwise he would know that things were not nearly as settled as she let on. Even managers were calling to express their outrage "How could they just sell those people out like that?" One asked earlier in the day.
"What have you got planned for Beaton?" she asked him with a sly look.
"Oh, I'd like to see him ridden out of town on a rail, the bastard. I think he'll go down like a brick shithouse in the election next year for Canadian Pres. The International wants Piggy for President and they can make it happen. I'm happy to help out in whatever small way I can".
"So will that be the end of him?" the apprentice asked. "What happens to those guys once they're deposed?"
"Oh, the International might just cut him lose but I think they'll probably fix him up with some staff job or other just to see him through to retirement. That way they can control him. I'm going to see to it that he gives up the names of anybody on the inside who's helped him as well. Then there'll be another score to settle."
"Oh yeah," said the apprentice enthusiastically. "Do you really think there's any truth to all that?"
"I don't really think so", he replied, "but what the hell, I'd like to find out if I can and with Piggy in charge, I most certainly will".
"How's that? Why would Beaton tell Piggy anything after getting trounced in the election?" the apprentice asked.
"Oh well you see, Beaton will by then be on the International's payroll. If he wants to retire in comfort and luxury, he's gonna have to play ball. If they ask him the right way, he'll cough it up. That's what these guys are like. They're all the same, even the true believers."
Fred Beaton and the workers who had supported him were not the only ones who were going to pay a price. The Boss's plans for an across the board wage rollback were falling into place. He'd agreed, after making Piggy beg for it, to grant URAC voluntary rec for their 20 stores but the price URAC would pay would be concessions. Piggy said he had no problem with the idea of a rollback if the company really needed one (and he accepted that it did) but concession bargaining had to be approved by the International. He would do some spadework and, although he couldn't guarantee anything, thought it would fly. The Boss made no bones about it with Piggy. A reduction to minimum wage for the biggest classifications, a 20% wage cut for the rest was what it would take to get a deal at negotiations.
"Why can't Piggy just agree to it?" the apprentice asked the Boss over lunch a few days later.
"It's all political," the Boss replied. "It has to look like it was a really tough call. Like they really mulled it over good and sent it to the highest levels of the organization. If the International Pres says it has to be then there must be a justifiable reason for it. It has to be. Plus it gives spineless bastards like Piggy an out with the members. 'The International said it was the only way out of the jam we're in. Hey, it could be a lot worse ladies. Do any of you have any better ideas than the International President?' It's also a good way for Piggy to dodge flack from other guys in the union. If the International gives something it's blessing, it's not to be questioned."
"So is the meeting we're going to have with Pidgin just pro forma?" she asked. "Or do we have to persuade them that we really need a break? How would we do that anyway? We're doing so well".
"I don't expect there to be much discussion", the Boss said. "I'm just going to tell Pidgin what I need. If he jerks me around, I'll lay it on thick how much their lousy raid has cost us and what they're gonna be up against if they want to do some real bargaining. The big advantage that we have is that these high-ranking sorts don't know squat about business - they just think they know. Watch me put the right spin on our current profitability if I have to. I don't think it's going to be all that difficult though. Piggy has already done the spadework for me. He says Pidgin can be persuaded."
"Did I just hear you call Piggy a spineless bastard", she asked laughing. "I thought you said Piggy was one of us."
"Piggy one of us? Nah." The Boss chuckled. "Well, he is one of us in that he wants power, status, money, he wants people kissing his ass and jumping through hoops for him, because it's better to be the kissee than the kisser. So he's one of us to that extent. But he's not like us. He's down the food chain a few notches from us, he just doesn't know it. But he'll never be up here with us. Piggy never had the social graces to move in our kind of circles. I used to like to hang out with Piggy way back when. I liked getting drunk and disorderly with him but I never really liked Piggy. He was always a low class asshole and he talked too much when he got pissed. You had to be careful where you went with him. I like using him to get what I want. I'll make like I'm his pal because it gets me someplace but I don't like him. I don't trust him either, the weasel. He'd screw me in a minute if he had half a chance, or half a brain which he doesn't."
"I don't think Piggy likes me", the apprentice said. "He always looks at me strangely and seems uncomfortable talking around me. Why do think that is?"
"You're a chick. He doesn't know why you're in on all this stuff. It's not the way they do things over at his union. Well, it's not exactly the way we do things at the company either, but hey, I'm an enlightened kind of guy. You know, you're very fortunate that you're management. Hey, we've got our share of pigs back at the office but at least an ambitious girl like you can get ahead without giving it - although it wouldn't kill ya. Heh, heh...", he snickered.
"You can get a piece of ass anywhere Boss", the apprentice responded, "But a good administrative manager in your kind of work is hard to find".
"Oh yeah, yeah sure, " he said, "I was just trying to make that point that life inside some of these unions isn't nearly as pleasant as life on our side of the fence."
"That's what I've heard too", the apprentice replied, "I thought these unions were all for women's rights and equality and all that kind of shit".
"Oh that's just the calling card. It helps them organize and gets them invited to more parties", the Boss laughed. "You see how concerned they were about rights and equality and all that kind of crap for the 10,000 honeys they just sold down the river. If Piggy's nervous around you, that's a good thing. You can use that to manipulate him. When people are nervous, you can get more out of them. That's why I want you to come to URAC headquarters with me tomorrow. I'm going to nail that tall-drink-of-water Pidgin for our rollbacks".
The Boss's invitation to join him on his trip to URAC International caught her by surprise as he'd talked about going alone for the last two weeks. It was very hush-hush he'd said which was odd since everything he did was very hush-hush and most of the time he brought her along. She wondered if he was having his misgivings about her. She was thrilled to be going along of course but something about being with the Boss and Piggy and Pidgin, in an unfamiliar city far from home, made her uneasy. After thinking on it for a while she concluded that it could not be. The Boss would not put up with her for a minute if he knew. It's all cool, she thought. I'm going to URAC headquarters.
That night she called Mack Unocogleone and told him that she and the Boss were flying to International headquarters with Piggy to ask Pidgin to agree to a wage cut in the upcoming negotiations. Uno seemed disbelieving, almost dismissive. The International would never, ever agree to rollbacks he said. They just can't do that in advance of negotiations. True, URAC had settled for rollbacks a few times in the recent past, but most of those were after lengthy strikes or in businesses that were in very bad shape or were driving a really hard bargain. Beside, the members would have to vote on any contract offer that the union agreed to and he could not see the members at these stores agreeing to rollbacks. The company was very profitable and everyone knew it.
"Well, what if they do it Mack? She asked. "What if they do it anyway? They weren't going to do the carving-up-the-turf deal either according to you but they did anyway. You signed the damned thing yourself. What's stopping them from bargaining concessions, doing a song and dance at ratification and getting it approved? The members are pretty demoralized right now. Look I understand the position you're in right now but are you telling me that you're just going to sit back and let it happen?"
"There's nothing I can do," he replied after a long silence. "What they did was really rotten. I don't think they have the constitution behind them on it, but what could I do about it? The International ordered me to sign. The International pays me. If I was an elected officer of the local, I could have held out but I'm not. You have to understand, for me it would be a one-way ticket back to the old warehouse where I got started and the ten bucks an hour I'd be making under their new contract. I just can't do that. I've bought a house. I have kids now. I have payments. It would be too big a sacrifice. So you've gotta understand that with the deal, there was nothing I could do except sign it. With a contract, it's all different. The members have to vote on it and there's no way those members are going to vote in favor of concessions. No way."
As she put down the phone her eyes narrowed and she drew in a long breath. Unocogleone's explanation did not sit well but, she quickly told herself, maybe she was just being selfish. Maybe she ought to be more tolerant. It must have been awfully devastating for him to have the rug pulled out from under him. He'd done such a stellar job or running the campaign. Maybe this was just his way of dealing with it; maybe it would all still work out.
An excited Piggy greeted the Boss at the airport. "How're you doin' big guy?" he asked, pressing his hand into the Boss's. "Oh", he said nervously greeting the apprentice.
"What's wrong Piggy, you look like you've seen ... something scary?" she asked good-naturedly.
"Well, uh, naw, naw", Piggy stammered looking quite flustered. "It's just that when the Boss told me to book two tickets for him, I thought he was going to be bringing one of the fellas from your office".
"Chrissakes Piggy," the Boss chided him, "Get your head out of a dinosaur's ass. This ain't the URAC office."
On the aircraft, the Boss mostly ignored Piggy. Sitting on the aisle with the apprentice by his side, the two of them talked about mundane business back at the office. Piggy sat forlorn and confused, pressed against the window while the two of them chatted away about things that did not concern him.
"I thought maybe it would help if I told you something about Pidgin" he finally said leaning over towards the Boss. "He's very big on cooperative labour relations. If you talk about the importance of a good relationship, that'll help you."
"I'm not looking to stick my tongue in his mouth", the Boss snorted. "The way I plan on playing it is to tell him what kind of a bad relationship he's going to have if I don't get my way." Piggy cringed and fell silent.
Piggy would continue his efforts at priming the Boss for his discussion with Pidgin even as they piled into a taxi and headed for the luxury hotel that URAC had booked for them. Minutes after they checked in, he enthusiastically rousted them from their rooms so that they could meet the International President whom Piggy had encountered in the hotel's bar.
Piggy introduced them with much deference to the small, sallow-faced man with shaggy white hair perched precariously on a barstool. The President nodded, shook hands with each of them and smiled in a detached way. The apprentice looked him intently in the eye.
"They're here for the meeting with Pidgin tomorrow", Piggy explained. The International President nodded again, smiled at them wanly and then abruptly turned his back and returned to his drink. The Boss and the apprentice followed Piggy out the door.
"Rude cocksucker," the Boss said to Piggy. "Is he always that fuckin' friendly?"
What a bizarre little man, the apprentice thought. He looked like a garden gnome dressed up as a union president. A sense of the surreal has been haunting her for weeks now. This encounter made it worse. A lot of things were not adding up. The International President was highly regarded among the URAC faithful. URAC's publications sang his praises. A man of the people, a fighter, a winner. Something about the gnome-like figure perched atop a barstool didn't fit the bill.
She had heard about him way back when - when she had first met Fred Beaton and all this began. Beaton had spoken highly of the Pres. He called him a strong leader - someone who would lead the union boldly into the next century. The Pres had approved Beaton's request to commence the organizing campaign and provided the substantial funding that had almost taken it the distance. He knew all about the campaign at every step. He knew how close it was to a successful conclusion. He knew about her. How could he just let it go, she wondered. She'd heard the story of how Piggy, that worm, had whispered in his ear about how badly the campaign was going and how terribly it would sour relations with the company. How could he fall for something like that after everything URAC had invested in the campaign? But a sense of dread came over her. It can't be that, she told herself. There must be some other explanation and she resolved that she would find it.
"Come on", the Boss said turning to her. "Let's go see the sights". The Boss ditched Piggy, hailed a cab and the two of them rolled around the historic city viewing famous landmarks and taking note of nightclubs they might want to visit later.
"In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever."
"Good thing he ain't around to save this union", the Boss snickered as they stood before the famous monument.
"I don't think he could save it if he wanted to," the apprentice agreed.
At a shop in a touristy district, the Boss bought a small pocket camera. Handing it to the apprentice he said, "After our meeting with Pidgin tomorrow, we're going to have dinner with Piggy". Sometime during the evening I want you to just all of a sudden take this out and take a picture of Piggy and me".
"You want me to take a picture of Piggy"? She asked, more than a little surprised.
"Yeah, of Piggy and me. Just one will do. Just make sure you've got both of us in it and that you can tell it's him in the picture. It's my insurance policy. In case he gets any ideas about saving the union".
"OK, Boss", she said feeling somewhat better.
The following day, Pidgin arrived right on time in the luxurious suite he had booked for their meeting. Piggy sat, fidgeting in a large leather chair, swinging his feet back and forth and picking at his fingernails with a pen. The Boss was hung over from a night out on the town and was in a surly frame of mind.
Pidgin greeted the Boss coolly but affably.
"We're very pleased that we've been able to work out an arrangement ending the raid," he said. "I think Piggy here needs to be commended for his efforts."
"Well, the deal isn't signed, sealed and delivered yet. We're going before the LRB next month. There's a whole whack of paperwork that needs my signature", the Boss reminded him. "Make no mistake, you've got my OK in principle on the deal, but any pissing around between now and then, and all bets are off. You can go and have your LRB votes my friend, and see what that will get you".
Pidgin maintained his diplomatic demeanor. "We understand that you want to have some preliminary discussions about negotiations", he said. "I have no problem with that. We're off the record I understand?"
"Yeah, way off the record", the Boss replied. "So you can take that note pad and wipe your ass with it. I'll get right to the fuckin' point Donnie. That fuckin' raid cost this company big time. Your guys cost us millions in legals alone and now we're very close to fucked." He stopped and stared intently at Pidgin as if to emphasize the point.
"That's very unfortunate", Pidgin replied sincerely. "We've already indicated to you that it's not the way we operate. We are practical people and recognize the value of good relationships with the employers we deal with. We're quite interested in developing a cooperative relationship with your organization".
"In the best of times this is a tough business", the Boss began, seemingly oblivious to the olive branch the union leader had extended. "We got the competition breathing up our ass all the time and there's more of it moving in. We have to expand our operations just to stay in the game. You know how much that's setting us back? Thirty, forty mil. We gotta open a whole bunch of new stores just to stay in the game. We need a break, Donnie. I'm a reasonable guy but I'm an honest guy too. We can have a decent relationship but you're gonna have to respect me in the morning and trust me. When it comes time to sit down and bargain, I'm gonna be asking for a rollback, across the board".
"What kind of rollback?" Pidgin asked.
"Twenty percent", the Boss responded blandly. "That's what I need".
"That's a pretty hefty rollback", Pidgin said after thinking for a moment. "That's going to be problematic for us. This is a first contract with these members and the first time we're going to have a presence in this industry. It will be politically very difficult for us to agree to concessions right now. The members may buy it but other unions would jump all over us".
"Yeah, well what are they going to say when you're getting fucking decertified all over the map?" The Boss sneered. "Because that's where it's going to go".
"Let me assure you", Pidgin said emphatically," I understand that our over zealous brothers' actions have taken a toll. It's really unfortunate that this happened but it's history now. We've dealt with it. Our intention is not to drive you out of business".
"It's good to know that", the Boss said, "That's the kind of union I think we can deal with. But, we need a break and I understand that you need one as well. You want voluntary rec for those 20 stores, I can make it happen. But you're going to have to play ball with me".
"What about a two tier pay scale?" Pidgin asked. "We've done those before in situations where an employer needed a break. They're much easier politically. The members who will be getting less aren't there yet. They won't be at the ratification. Provided that I have your commitment that SHU will get the same deal, I wouldn't be opposed".
"Well, I don't know", the Boss said, deep in thought. "I hadn't really thought about a two tier before. Our needs are pressing and immediate. There may be some potential but I'm going to have to talk it over with our CEO. You don't have to worry about SHU getting any better than you. If we get the right kind of deal with you, why the hell would we do something different with them?"
"Well, think about it", Pidgin responded. "If your stores have high turnover, you could have the majority of your staff on the lower tier within a period of time."
"Yeah, yeah that's true", the Boss said. "I'll get back to you. As of right now though, your offer is on the table. I'm having dinner with Piggy here, later today. I'll let Piggy know if we're prepared to explore the idea further".
The Boss could hardly contain himself after they'd left the luxurious suite and lost Piggy again. It was better than anything he'd hoped for. "Like shooting fish in a barrel", he said. "This is really great. I didn't even have to squeeze it out of the sonovabitch. With our turnover, we'll have the equivalent of an across the board rollback in a year or two. What's even better is that we can peg the lower tier as low as we want and they'll go for it. I can't believe it. He just offered it up!"
"Why do you think he did that?" The apprentice asked.
"Because he doesn't give a shit," the Boss responded matter-of-factly. "Look, these are a bunch of broads far away in an industry he doesn't know much about. He's got bigger fish to fry. So he can just go ahead and fry 'em!" he said doing a little jig.
"I'm going to keep stringing him along for a few days," the Boss continued, "to make it look like we're still thinking it over. That will make him anxious to close the deal. It will also give me a chance to really low-ball them on the lower tier. Oh, happy days are here again."
At dinner that night Piggy urged the Boss to consider the two tier option. "I think it might work", the Boss, said still not that enthusiastic. "You know, Piggy, that if we go down this path, that lower tier is going to look like our non-union competitors".
Piggy nodded. "We're not out to break the company," he said, "I think Pidgin was pretty clear with you about that."
During their leisurely dinner, the apprentice snapped off a picture of the two of them as the Boss had asked her to earlier in the day. Poor Piggy almost fainted. He looked at the Boss in dismay but the Boss only laughed. "Hey, I put her up to it," he chided. "Come on Piggy, have a sense of humor. Think of how much you want all those dues-paying broads."
It was midnight by the time the apprentice returned to her room in the luxurious hotel. A strange unsettled feeling followed her into the room. For the last several weeks, she'd sensed the ground shifting under her feet.
She picked up the phone and called Fred Beaton.
"Fred, it's me, how are you doing?" she asked.
"Well, I won't kid you", said the gravelly voice on the end of the phone. "I've had better days."
"I haven't heard from you much lately Fred", she said. "Do you know what's going on?"
"No, what's the latest?" he asked.
"The boys are cutting a deal on concessions", she explained. "When we sit down to bargain with them in a couple of months, they're going to agree to a two tier wage scale. Within a few months, most of the members will be a rock bottom wages. They've pretty much agreed to it all now."
"They can't do that", Beaton said incredulously.
"Well, they just did Fred," the apprentice replied. "You mean like they couldn't cut the deal to end the campaign? Fred, what's with you guys? Why is it so hard for you to believe that these things are happening? It's real."
"What happened with the deal was outrageous but there's nothing I can do about it. The deal on a new contract is something totally different though. The members will have to vote on it and I just don't think these members are going to agree to concessions, not after what they've been through."
"What they've been through!" the apprentice said, her anger rising. "How many of them have you talked to lately Fred? Look, I'm hearing from a dozen of them every day. After what they've been through, most of them aren't going to give your fucking union the time of day. The concessions they're going to have shoved down their throats will seem like a minor screwing compared to what your brothers have just done to them."
"Look, I'm very disappointed with what happened" Beaton said. "I'm really quite outraged but I know that there is nothing I can do about it. I can't change it. It's like this in unions. They're political organizations and sometimes certain political interests win out over others."
"What sewer did they wash your brain out in Freddie," she asked, quite angry now. "Political interests? Don't talk to me like I'm some moron in your movement. There's nothing political about this at all. This is all about your turd brother Piggy's self-interest. Your damned International Veep just agreed to concessions without knowing whether there is even a shred of justification for them. Hell, he suggested a two tier before we even said anything about one. He said it was something you guys did a lot of. He didn't ask us for any proof of our financial difficulties - which we wouldn't be able to provide anyway because there aren't any - he just said, 'Oh, well what about a two tier'. Political my ass. Give your head a shake. I'm asking you straight, what can you do about this and don't tell me 'nothing'. You just about pulled off the impossible with your campaign. You've got to stop this."
"There are some things we could do but I'm not sure that I could recommend them. It would tear our union apart and I really don't want that", Beaton said.
"Tear your union apart? Maybe that would be a step forward Fred", she said. "We don't need a two tier. We're rolling in money. The Boss cried poor and Pidgin just bought it. He suggested the two tier! Fred, what kind of union is this? What kind of people are these?"
Beaton sounded tired. "I know this is hard to understand," he explained slowly, "But unions are very political organizations. They're all about people and that makes them political. Sometimes people don't always make the best decisions but it's important that we stick together. I can't in good conscience pull the union apart. I've been at this a long time. My whole life is in this organization".
"All the more reason to stop this. Didn't you have a vision for URAC? I remember us talking about that. Ridding it of corruption would seem to me to be an important step forward", she continued at him but sensing now that it was pointless.
"I'm going to retire soon, I've decided that." Beaton said. "It's time for people like Mack and the other organizers and activists to pick up the ball".
"Retiring?" she asked incredulously. "That means Piggy for President doesn't it?"
"Oh, not necessarily," Beaton replied, "There are a lot of good people within URAC. Some of them may come forward and run in the election next year".
"In theory pigs might fly too, Fred," she responded. "Gimme a break. You know nobody can go head to head with Piggy except you. What the hell happened Fred? I think I can ask that question and expect an honest answer from you. I've stuck my neck way out for you guys because you told me that you believed in something. You sure made like you believed in something. Can you at least tell me why you're turning tail and pissing off?"
"You don't understand", he said. "You're not from the labour movement. It's a lifelong commitment. I never believed that I'd get sold our just like that. That's not what I was expecting at all but it happened. The International President decided and I have no choice but to go along with him. To do otherwise would hurt the union and the labour movement. This is a really important time for organized labour. The last thing anyone wants is to see a lot of internal fights".
"You're right, Fred, I don't understand this at all," she said. "How do you expect anyone to follow an organization led by people like this?"
"It's not the leaders that make the difference at the end of the day, it's the members", he responded.
"And where are they in all of this? You know Fred, I never asked anything from you or expected anything from you and I sure as hell don't right now but I'm trying to figure out where the road leads from here. I don't belong with these people..."
"Why don't you talk to Mack", he interrupted, "When the dust settles, I'm sure he can find a spot for you."
"I don't want any part of Piggy's union" she responded. "That's not what I was getting at. For me this is not the end. This part is over, but it's not the end of the story. Shit, I'm twenty-five years old! I've got a lot of years ahead. I just don't know which way to go."
"I don't know what to tell you", he said, sounding very distant now. "You've taken a very unusual path. You'll carve out your own path from here, that much I know - to wherever you want to go."
"No shit Sherlock," she said warmly now, knowing that it was over.
With that, the apprentice bade Fred Beaton a good night and a happy retirement. It would be the last time that she spoke with him for a very long time. She sat for a long time looking out the window over the city. Finally she could feel the ground give way. In the months that had passed since her path first crossed with Fred Beaton's, she had often speculated on the outcome of her strange mission. Most of the time she foresaw a victory for the people she considered her real co-workers an affirmation of their rights and their power or, in darker moments, however, her untimely death. But at no time had she imagined that it would come out like this. In that moment she disconnected from them. They are all the same, this is all a game.
Reaching for a cigarette, she could smell his cigar smoke on her clothes. It was as though he'd followed her into the room. She turned around, scanning the darkened hotel room as if to be sure. Nothing there. Just the dim light lurking. The clock flashing a bad time. The phone left off the hook, beeping softly, and message lamp glowing. Radio playing I Don't Live Today.
He was not there but she could hear him, his scheming, his boasting, his solicitations, the fawning paternalism with which he'd told her, "Now you are one of us". No longer, she thought, wondering who were the "us" with whom she belonged. Maybe if she looked back - back to where this all began - she would find them.