Many of you have seen and read this since it was written 18 years ago. But here it is once again, and i must admit i have never been prouder of the spirit and the message it brings to today’s labor movement. Brothers and Sisters since this was originally written we have weathered the horrific events of 911, the worse recession in modern history and now the ultra conservative Janus decision that is nothing more than union busting, plain and simple. And i am even more confident today than i was 18 years ago when i wrote this, that i made the right decision. We’re Union And We Ain’t Going Nowhere!
I, like so many before me, am a part of the skilled labor force of this great country of ours. In fact, going back to almost the turn of the last century, my relatives have been a part of the working men and women who helped build our infrastructure.
In my youth I never realized the tradition that I had embraced by choosing this road. I often wonder, like so many of us, should I have taken another path? Should I have gone on to become a lawyer or a doctor, like most parents wish for their children. Children who have seen the struggle and hardship that so many ordinary working families do.
I am proud to have been given the opportunity to walk in my ancestor’s footsteps. But I am the last of a breed, the end of the line. My other family members and siblings have chosen another road, the road of white collars and wingtip shoes. And for them, now maybe for the very first time, I feel a sense of sorrow in my heart, because I have something that they will never experience. The sweat, the pain, the cold hands and the aching feet, the thought of the work day being just a little while longer, and then the relief and immense pride felt when the job is done. A feeling that only those of us who have actually been there can feel. The sense of accomplishment that not even the CEO of the biggest corporation can ever experience.
In the early days being a worker on the railroads, the tunnels or the bridges was a way for our immigrant ancestors to attain a better life for themselves and their families. Their sense of hard work was only surpassed by their great sense of pride in what they had built. Many of our ancestors never made it out of those trenches or off those bridges or tracks, and for them I feel a deep sense of grief. Knowing now how hard they worked to build this country and to build a life for their families is somehow lost in the new age of technology.
It’s not brain surgery or biochemistry but what we do every day with our hands and our backs is something that only we can truly understand.
I must admit that for many years I was frustrated and bitter for making the choice that I made. Wanting what so many around me had gotten because of their interest in being the one who chooses the color, not paints the house.
I really didn’t understand how lucky I was!
To see a road built is fine but knowing that I helped build it is something that doesn’t fade quickly. The architect who draws the building is featured in magazines but the men and women who actually build it are never asked, never told, never seen, as the true artist. That building is much more theirs, than the man who put the drawings on paper.
Yes, most times it is an unrecognized effort by those who are looking for nothing more than an honest living and a means to support their families.
Yet can it be any different? Probably not, but I don’t think that really matters to many of us. You see, we know we were there, we know how much sweat and pain it took and we know when we look up at that building that those who went before us are looking on and cheering, “Good Job!”
I am sure they can see the fruits of my labor and theirs, and I often wonder if the feelings I have in my heart are those of all who came before me. Feelings swelled like a great big ball, the fiery emotions of friendships and toil, laughter and hardship, combined with spirited globs of heartaches, smiles, tears and cheers. One can only take faith that this has been their gift to me.
I sometimes wonder if our fathers, grandfathers, brothers and sisters are up there looking on and smiling about how far we have come and how much we have accomplished.
But most of all, I wonder if they are proud of me. Proud of the work I have done, of what I have built and what I have yet to build. Proud to see that the road they chose to travel has once again been traveled by one of their own.
The thought of their pride is what drives me even harder every day.
To all of those who came before me I say “Thank you”. And to all of you I say, “I am Proud to be a Laborer”.