years were filled with reading. I was an omnivorous reader, reading
any and everything. Two books that radicalized me were Thorstein Veblens
Theory of the Leisure Class and Ethel Mannins Comrade
O Comrade. From the latter I determined that Anarchism was the
best brand. When I got to New York Citys Lower East Side in the
60s, well before it became gentrified, I sought out and joined
an Anarchist group called the Libertarian League. Affiliated with this
group was a relic of early American Unionism, the I.W.W., also known
as the Wobblies, spearheaded by Sam Dolgoff. From Sam and the others
I learned to venerate unionism. I learned that the means of production
should be in the hands of the workers. If I had known then what I know
now, my view of unions might not have been so rosy.
primarily armchair Anarchists, long on theory but short on practice,
although the two leaders, Sam Dolgoff and Russell Blackwell, had been
very active when they were younger. One thing I learned from them was
that the end does not justify the means and long after I left New York
I carried this belief into all my future endeavors.
or Industrial Workers of the World, felt that worker control of the
means of production was the way to a true Anarchist society where none
would lead but all would participate. The unspoken belief was that man
was basically good and, if not tied down by external forces, folks would
head in the right direction. Doing the right thing in a morally correct
way was very important. They were idealists and so I became an idealist
too. Dirty tricks, lies and bullying were not acceptable tactics. In
opposition to the Communists we did not believe that a worthy end was
justified by unworthy means.
I was in
the group just before and in the time of the Civil Rights movement in
the USA. Seemed then like everyone I knew was seeking higher moral ground.
came back to Canada I ended up working for the Government. At that time
there were many support staff. Bubbling under, during the years that
I worked there was a grievance identified as Pay Equity. Support staff
were not receiving equal pay for equal work. We were living in the tail
end of a top down paternal system which assumed that women would be
paid less, no matter what they did.
was a very just cause. No question about it. There was unfairness and
it was not being addressed. I went to many union meetings and listened
to this and listened to that. As we geared up to Strike I was immersed
in union propaganda. I received all kinds of encouragement to go on
strike. I was debating the matter in my head.
certain people who fell into an area between management and support
staff. Their positions were covered by the Union that wished to go on
strike. Some of these folks did not support the strike for reasons of
their own which I was not privy to. One of these was a friend of mine,
originally from Czechoslovakia. He had been the recipient of the attentions
of the Soviet Union during the ill-fated 1968 Prague Spring, when the
Soviet forces invaded Czechoslovakia to crush this pro democracy movement.
members of the Union in my own workplace, and Im not saying that
the whole Union supported this, were phoning those who refused to go
on Strike and threatening them over the phone. My friend had such a
call. His children were there and one of them answered the phone. This
child was threatened with reprisals by a Union member because his daddy
was a bad man who was going to cross the picket line. My Czech friend
told me about this. He said, These people are amateurs. Ive
been bullied by professionals by which he meant the Communists.
not take a light-hearted view of this, and other instances of bullying.
There were others who were threatened with nastiness as well.
In my mind,
morally, the end did not justify the means. My Anarchist group had taught
me this. Without question the cause of the Strike was just. Unfairness
needed to be addressed. This all needed to be sorted out but I could
not support their tactics, I could not, I could not, I could not support
their tactics. Bullying was wrong. I made a decision. I would cross
line I did. I was faced daily by a screaming mob as I tried to go to
work. They never jostled me or physically assaulted me. It was all verbal.
These were the people I worked with and their supporters. They were
standing there screaming in my face as I tried to get in the door. One
time I turned around and retreated. They followed me, almost chasing
me, so I stopped and faced them again and they moved back. It struck
me then that they were cowards.
point they were blocking the door with their bodies. I was nose-to-nose
with the one who was closest to the door handle. While they were screaming
at me, a businessman, walking by with his suit and his briefcase stopped
and said, Leave her alone! They heard that more than anything
they might have heard from me. Obviously a meeting was held and a decision
made because the next day there was no more screaming. They just turned
their backs on me as I walked in. If a reporters camera had caught
the confrontation the day before it would have been bad publicity for
them, I suppose. Either that or they may have sensed that I was not
going to give in.
I was told
to use an entrance at the other end of the building where some of the
folks I worked closely with were stationed. There was some name calling,
Scab! and so forth. Management had to escort me in those
doors when that became the entrance, a job they did not relish.
perhaps by coincidence, the air conditioning had gone off, so there
was no air circulation, and no-one would come in to repair it. This
was in a closed building and the air became very dead and muggy, unpleasant
to breathe and hot since this was in the summertime. Everything was
deathly quiet. I had to sit at my computer and do what work there was,
not too much of that, until the allotted time for working was over.
had ground to a halt, due to the Strike. I helped with some technical
stuff, accessing data and so forth, which I could do because Im
I was not
very happy. I was quite shaken. I would go into a washroom stall and
meditate on a pillar of light trying to armor myself against all the
animosity. It wasnt easy.
the long Strike was over and they won, working with those who had gone
on Strike wasnt easy. For the next several years, as long as I
worked there, I experienced animosity. Some folks gradually mellowed
but the he die hard Union people certainly didnt. I wasnt
best beloved but I was what I was and some of them came
to accept that. I never told them why I had crossed the line. It involved
another person and my reaction to the telephone bullying and I just
figured they did not have the ears to hear me, so I said nothing. I
just kept it to myself and very gradually the wounds healed over.
a moral stand and, in this instance, I had to cross the line.
© Sonia Brock 2007