Q4 2019

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17 F A L L Q 4 I S S U E Labor's Big Comeback Rob Callahan G E T T I N G O R G A N I Z E D h e a d l i n e s a n d h i s t o r y book endnotes is where the zeitgeist breathes. So let's attend for a moment to its respiration. In the context of orga- nized labor, our zeitgeist doesn't merely breathe; it pants; its pulse quickens with excited exertion. To a degree we've not seen in decades, workers are restive. All over, they are exercising their collec- tive clout to bring business-as-usual to a standstill. As I wrote this article, approximately 50,000 members of the United Auto Workers struck, shutting down General Motors plants across the country (a ten- tative deal was reached in mid-October). They're fighting, among other things, a tiered wage system that relegates M otown released Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" on the day I was born. On the title track, Gaye's plaintive tenor invokes "picket lines and picket signs" as metonyms of that period's socio-political tumult. Al- most half a century later, picket lines and picket signs again appear seeming- ly everywhere around us. So it seems an apt time to ask, what's going on? T h e a w k w a rd n e s s o f m i d d l e a ge encumbers this medium of the quarterly magazine column. Nearly eight weeks separate my penning of this piece from its eventual appearance in print. Lum- bering along with the weight of dead trees, our magazine can't keep pace with news that flits to and fro at the sponta- neous speed of a tweet. No information herein will be up-to-the-month, let alone up-to-the-minute. But if a quarterly column can't be timely, neither can it be at enough of a remove from time to offer historical perspective. Kim Novak's character in "Ver- tigo" points to tree rings graphing the centuries on a cross-section of sequoia trunk; "Somewhere here I was born, and there I died." This column arrives via dead trees, but unlike the felled redwood in "Verti- go," their processed pulp affords no panorama on which to plot the plodding march of history. So we have here neither the fleetness requisite to relay the latest develop- ments, nor the deliberative detachment requisite to situate events within the sweep of a grand chronology. Arguably, t h o u g h , t h i s i s w h e r e l i f e h a p p e n s — in this interval between news and history. This space between newspaper P H O T O : A P I M A G E S

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