Being part Irish, I learned more about them from books and history than my own parentage. My father would sometimes say, “Greetuns’, greetuns and salutations,” when he was in a good mood. And he’d say, “mournin’ boys” to my girl friends, which kind of embarrassed me as a teen. We got the great big “eye”, a television set, when I was about 16 and he didn’t let me watch old British films because they aggrandized the British. (I really understood that after I read Trinity.)
He believed in political debate at the dinner table and never let us forget that the working man had to fight for every right he ever had and if it weren’t for the unions, we’d all be working in sweatshops.
“I’ve worked all my life, and I never had a day of sick leave, and I’ve been plenty sick,” he would say.
Even so, he was grateful for seniority, the right to organize and ask for pay increases, the right to complain if an individual thought he was fired unfairly. They won pension benefits, and health care, which in my father’s time was simply a nurse on the job to report and treat injuries and provide a record that injuries happened on the job so the union could investigate if any safety rules were ignored. They won the right to have written evaluations and records of their work so the boss couldn’t lie about a man’s worthiness. Companies didn’t just roll over an capitulate. They fought it tooth and nail, and had other ways of forcing an older man off the job so they wouldn’t have to pay a pension.
In my father’s case, he worked for Pacific States Steel Company. They didn’t like guys who wouldn’t tow the line or complained to their union about infractions of the union rules and safety violations. He suffered through many attacks; acid in his locker which ate holes in his clothes. Tacks under his tires, which gave him flat tires. His lunch sandwiches filled with sand; midnight phone calls and threats to my mother. (This happened in the 1960’s.) They finally quit the harassment when the bosses had a meeting with the union and my dad appeared with my husband and my brother-in-law, both dressed in suits and ties carrying brief cases looking like lawyers, and holding a tape recorder. My dad got his pension of $98 a month. When he died, my mother got $76 of that which was considered very generous.
My husband’s job as a cop was subject to the whim of the Board of Supervisors. In the forties, cops would be fired if they tried to organize into a union and were told so. In fact, at one time you had to be a Republican and join the Masons to become a cop. Later, you had to be a Republican and a Mason to get a promotion. During one bitter strike by a local cannery in Alameda County, CA. cops were instructed to beat back the protesters with their batons even though the cannery workers had the right to protest. Even forming a deputy sheriff”s association was done with trepidation. Deputies served at the whim of the Board of Supervisors. They could not negotiate for better pay. They did not receive overtime pay. Eventually they received compensatory time, but certain bosses wouldn’t sign their comp time cards and refused to give it to them. Other supervisors would come on the job and say, “You-take your vacation this week.” Just like that. You took your time, with no opportunity to plan, and you were grateful that you got vacation at all.
The Irish were very much at the forefront of unions and union organizing in many communities. They suffered so much from the British, they made sure it wouldn’t happen in their adopted countries, US and Australia. So, Happy St. Patricks day, and here be a Salute To The Irish, by gorrah!