My early 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.
These were 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.
The I.W.W., 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
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.
When I 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.
Now, this 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.
There were 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.
Certain 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.
I could 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 the line.
Cross the 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.
At one 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.
Inside, 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.
Things 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 a demi-geek.
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.
When, finally, 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.
It was a moral stand and, in this instance, I had
to cross the line.
© Sonia Brock 2007