When I worked for the U.S. Labor Department, one of my duties was to attend and participate in the graduation banquets for all of the federally recognized and registered apprenticeship programs here in south Louisiana. I was tasked with being the keynote speaker on these occasions. Wait, don't smirk, it was tougher than you think. I mean, unless you happen to be an out and out shameless and unredeemed hustler, like any of the current Tea Party favorite presidential candidates, motivational speaking always seems too far over the line of cheesy to pull off as a tasteful performance. The only thing the cads who usually do it manage to get moving is my intestinal track.
My reliably safe yet appropriate story, which mostly got the hands busy clapping rather than aiming the silverware my way, involved parts which were true in my own experience as well as some I lifted from an obscure short piece of fiction I had enjoyed years before. You can guess at the mixture.
It was about my best high school buddy, Antny Santa Bataglia. In our day, the circus still came to town once a year, and set up in the old Municipal Auditorium. We loved it. Especially Antny. One day, he ran away and joined it.
I saw him just twice again, when the circus came back to town. He was then only a set up hand. Later, he became part of the high wire act. One evening, his sister, Angela, called to tell me he had been killed in a fall, performing in a now forgotten small hamlet in Iowa. She also told me they had learned that Antny loved his work so well, he somewhere along the line had had a high wire image tattooed on the bottom of his feet. Well, that became a topping off line for my encouragement to the graduating apprentices.
Today, I work with a great many construction hands who reflect that same relationship with their work. They are good at what they do and put on a real show. Although most of them are also very good union brothers and sisters, they are far more reticent about letting it show outside of the workplace. They usually figure being a valuable and productive employee is all the service their union needs or expects. But it takes more than that. Our enemies are dedicated to our demise, and must be met head-on.
It is not enough to keep our beliefs and convictions to ourselves, like Antny. Our union identity cannot only be stamped on the dues ticket in our pocket. We need to let it show like it was tattooed on our foreheads.