Labor’s Unsung Heros: Parts 1 and 2

From a brother working on the front lines of the labor struggle in New Jersey, Kevin Boston,

“It’s push or be pushed. The world belongs to the meat-eaters.” -John P. Morris

In society today, we have reached a point at which many people need to live within walking distance from their jobs- that is, if they have one at all. It has become very expensive to travel any distance to and from work: between fuel, maintenance, tolls, insurance, fees… Or bus fare, which is ever-increasing. A cab? Forget it! Jobs these days do not pay enough of a living to cover transportation, much less provide a subsistence for workers and their families. It’s amazing they even get out of bed for a minimum wage of $7.25/hr ($2.13 for servers) with no security, benefits, retirement, or rights whatsoever on the job.

It is beyond me how we have allowed the methodical downslide that has brought us to the point at which we are today; especially when we have been periodically warned well in advance by so many. The corporate-owned lamestream media is of little help, if any. They obediently skirt around the real issues wherever possible. If you have come of age in the last 20 years, you have been trained without being told that you have to accept the new reality: that a good life (like that in which you likely grew up) simply is not available to you. If you haven’t “made it” by now, don’t ever expect to… It’s not happening. I cannot accept that, and neither should you.

Where is the REAL LEADERSHIP in today’s Labor Movement? Certainly, it is not with our so-called “Leaders”… Where is the representation? Where is the fire in the belly? Where is the organizing? How do they continue to allow a select few of entitled blowhards to roll back decades worth of rights and gains for working class folks? Those in the 18-35 age bracket have NEVER known job security, a DECENT wage, or a comfortable standard of living that is even close to that once enjoyed by the previous two generations. They have amassed a large sum of debt in the name of education that presently, they cannot profit from. The interest is going to rise, and the only ones profiting will be the Pigs in the Boardroom in banks, schools, the government, and so on.

Look at the Dow. Look at CEO compensation. Look at advertising budgets. Look at real PIGS in the Boardroom; all of those who have bought and paid for seats in our “representative” government. It’s time to move some dead weight out of the way! If we had real leadership, everyone would be in the streets and on strike by now. The discriminating news junkie can easily filter through all the fluff pieces and front page stories and get down to what really matters: the real news, the truth- the good, the bad, and the ugly. What is ugly is that just out of John Q. Public’s scope of vision is a massive, expensive political agenda designed to wind back time. There is no telling how far back the Chamber of Commerce, Supreme Court, ALEC, Congress, and the rest of the big business lobby intend to take us; through their totally anti-worker agenda- inclusive of a weak job market, weak dollar, stagnant wages, rising personal debt, and an all-out assault against the interests of students, graduates, seniors, women, minorities, the unemployed, the disenfranchised, the homeless, the uninsured, the working class, and voters. Intentionally left off this list was the middle class, because in my opinion, that has all but gone extinct. If you work for a living you are working class. If you used to work for a living you are now poor. What they cannot hit you with through national politics has been taken up by hacks in the states, individually. Notice the heavy concentration of Republican governors dancing to the big business beat like the political puppets they are.

Personally, there is not enough coverage in the news about the assault on workers’ rights. The dismantling and stagnation of the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) up to this point has been intentional, as was the nearly unnoticed death of EFCA (Employee Free Choice Act). Recent decisions by the courts, judges, and others regarding harassment, bullying, and limits set upon protests only exacerbate an already frustrating situation. To have large corporations such as Walmart fire and/or discipline some 40 striking workers; to have officials from the Teamsters, obviously in bed with employers such as UPS and YRC, pushing contracts that large numbers of members were unwilling to accept… None of this passes the smell test. Forty-seven percent of members of Congress are millionaires, and that begs the question: “Who is representing working people these days?” [Editor’s note: Not to mention the entire dismantling of the rust-belt and the near death of the core of American industry from autos to steel to machining.  Where was Lane Kirkland in the 1980’s? Where is Detroit now? What does working with capitalist bosses gain us?]

No one in the limelight is taking up the cause for working class folks in this country, save for a minute fraction of Congressional representatives and Senators. You won’t find them on the Supreme Court. As much as he talks a good game, we are still waiting for President Obama to don a pair of “comfortable walking shoes” and walk on the picket lines with striking workers. It is likely, however, that he has been advised by his controllers that this is something they forbid him to do. He will attend a rally, but strikes and rallies are far different in meaning. The “Leaders” of “Big Labor”? Most of those are more interested in their “big” paychecks and “big” perks, the fact that they wear a suit to work and negotiate agreements over lobster, shrimp, and wine, rather than representing their union members in earnest.

The main thing to remember is that no matter how upside down everything appears to be, there is nothing out of order here. The system is doing to us exactly what was intended: the choice is whether to allow it. It is entirely clear that working people in this country presently have no identifiable leaders, aside from Occupy Wall Street, Anonymous, and those willing to toss fear and consequences aside to make their point known, [italics added by editor] like the AFT in Chicago, Walmart and fast food workers, and UPS and “Rebuild/No more concessions” Teamsters. These people are self-led, self-directed, and driven by a cause that was nearly dead and anemic for the past 40 years. Welcome to the second phase of the Civil Rights era, as predicted over 20 years ago by Philadelphia Teamsters Leader John P. Morris, “Champion of the Working Man.”

Champion for the Working People

According to the late John P. Morris (1926-2002), a legendary Philadelphia Teamster Leader:

“If some company has to be union-free to exist, then who needs that kind of company?”

“A job that pays less than seven or eight dollars an hour, without any benefits, is not worth saving.” (1983)

There is no mystery at all as to why, if you live on the West Coast, in the South, or are below a certain age, you have never before heard the name Johnny Morris; or that if you have, it has not been in many years and you likely have forgotten about him. Mr. Morris was not at all like other Labor Leaders of modern times. He had the old-school grit, creativity, intelligence, and determination unseen since the very early days of the Labor Movement. Imagine for a moment a clean, honest version of Jimmy Hoffa Senior, and there you would have John Morris. Mr. Morris saw no reason whatsoever to engage in diplomacy when dealing with employers and government officials who would rejoice in seeing unions’ very existence legislated away. Teamsters everywhere, whether they know it or not, benefited greatly from his presence in the leadership structure. Never one to back down from a fight, Morris was quick with a witty line, a four-letter word-laden tirade, his one good fist, his trademark fedora, and was an expert at conducting a powerful, rousing Union sermon… Much of the former and the latter has spurred what have become renowned quotes and legendary stories.

His great organizing abilities and selfless representation of his contemporaries were recognized during his genesis in the Labor Movement: at the age of 29, he was given a new charter for a local Union to run on his own. Nothing big or fancy, and with just the 18 members from the department store he himself organized, the rest he had to build on his own through organizing and strikes- and organize and strike he did. People began to call upon his local for representation. All of the larger companies were already represented by the larger established locals, so that left the smaller businesses- usually with a forgotten, downtrodden, almost defeated workforce toiling under sweatshop conditions and severely in need of representation, a pay raise, some dignity, and health benefits. Many did not even have clean bathrooms available for their use. Those were the workers who had nothing to lose and everything to gain, and they would put it all on the line for their Brotherhood. Morris’ Teamsters in the Philadelphia region became such a powerhouse that he was elected president of the area Joint Council of Teamsters, and he later was able to create the Pennsylvania Conference of Teamsters, a regional Union STRONGHOLD which thrives to this day because of its member-directed power and its sheer numbers alone. Teamsters in the Pennsylvania Conference haven’t forgotten where they came from. Peak membership for the conference was around 140,000.

John Morris wrote a strike manual, the only one of its kind, that is still in use to this day. It was printed at the in-house print shop that he had built at Local 115 for Union publications. He created, ran, and even taught an organizing school that trained hundreds, if not thousands of union member-organizers. Had he been around for it, it is nearly certain that he would have had a food tent and educational seminars present at the Occupy Philadelphia encampment.

September 4, 1983, journalist Lucinda Fleeson wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer: “In John Morris’s world, the needs of the workingman come first, the city’s economy second. Period. This ferocious devotion to the principles of unionism has made John Morris one of the most popular and powerful labor leaders in Philadelphia. As such- more so perhaps than any other union boss around- Morris embodies the conflicts and contradictions that come with the job of being a modern-day labor leader. A beefy, scrappy Irishman, he is a master of ’30s-style hard-nose tactics. Yet Morris, 57, almost always wears a three-piece suit and is usually accompanied by a retinue of attorneys and college-educated aides. He is a balding, pale-skinned man with a withered right arm, yet he revels in his physical mightiness and exudes undeniable charm. At times, he can be the picture of smiling affability, amusing a visitor with an endless stream of yarns and jokes. Yet he also has a temper, and his face can darken with thunderclouds of outrage in an instant. As secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 115, with 2,500 members, and president of the area Joint Council of Teamsters, with 85,000 members, he is the local chief of a union with one of the worst reputations in the nation. But while national Teamsters leaders are regularly sent to jail for one form of labor racketeering or another, John Morris is regarded by the FBI’s Philadelphia labor squad as ‘Mr. Clean.'”

The above appeared in a profile story entitled “The Toughest, Meanest Union Boss in Town.”

Luckily, several copies of that publication have survived all this time, because you will not find a link to the original piece online or in an archive, as far as I am aware. When you google John P. Morris, much of the information and many of the links that you will find, I have searched for and reposted heavily to make his visions of the Labor Movement more prominent and relevant again. However, most curiously, you cannot find any video archived footage of interviews or speeches featuring Morris- and believe me, there were plenty. John Morris was on the Philadelphia news more than any other Union Leader, spokesperson, agent, organizer, or anyone involved in organized labor. If you wanted Labor’s message, you went to John.

If there was some business he could not personally attend to, Morris knew exactly whom to send where and for what purpose. He did not take any flak from any employers, government officials, corrupt Union officials, the Mafia, even school officials both while he was a young man and student and later as the representative of schools’, municipalities’, and private-sector employees. When John Morris made a threat of a labor action, it was known to be taken seriously. Pictures of Morris-led strikes used to line the halls of the Local 115 building on Cottman Avenue in Philadelphia. It is thought that they were placed there so that the employers would walk down the hallway toward the conference room and be forced to look at what could happen to them if they crossed the Teamsters. This became so true that many planned labor actions were settled the day before striking was to take place.

Somebody somewhere in the Teamsters Union knows what has happened to these photographs, as they are not where they rightfully belong- with the Morris family. The true story of how Morris was hated by current Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, and how a scheme of political retribution had been unleashed upon and carried out against his last remaining powerful and ultimate foe- the last force which stood between Teamster democratic strength and unity (Morris), and a complete takeover by the “old guard” style of top-down business unionism espoused by Hoffa and his supporters, the latter of which we suffer under today- has not yet been fully told. After the witch hunt of Morris and his ultimate ouster, the rest fell in line like dominoes. These Hoffa operatives have tried their very best to bury the legacy of “The Last of the Molly Maguires” but they have failed. The real story behind all of that will surface in the very near future; they know what they’ve done and they will pay dearly.

No Labor Leader around today can match the giant that was John Morris. Even though he was respected by state and national politicians alike, the government was scared to death of him. He could not be bought- not by management, not by the mob, and not by the politicians. He was marked to die by the Mafia, but by the grace of God, Morris survived. He created and championed an aggressive and militant union action plan in his repertoire, and one that was widely recognized. Morris had a keen eye for the truth and made predictions about society and the political landscape that have come true, some 20 years since making them and more than 10 years after his death. John Morris saw it all. The quotes, the stories, the predictions, and the proud legacy live on through many hardcore, old school unionists who are not all too impressed by James P. Hoffa, who gained the Teamsters presidency simply through his name recognition and a good bit of help from the federal government. Before becoming the General President of the Teamsters, Hoffa Jr. had to work as an administrative assistant to a Detroit Teamster leader for two years just to earn membership rights to run for the top spot. Hoffa Jr. was elected president of the Teamsters without ever having run a Teamsters local or organizing a union contract.

More Morris Quotes:

“Companies that don’t treat their employees decently don’t deserve to survive.”

“I grew up in the day of the coal and iron cops fighting the unions, and let me tell you, the hate here against unions is like the hate there was 100 years ago. There’s no one who fights for the poor in this city or this country. The haves will never agree with the have-nots. We represent the have-nots. And because the Teamsters are a little tougher to deal with, because we stick up for our members, they try to make us look like the bad guys.”

“Anytime you get into a concerted activity that requires pressure, you got to offend somebody. You got to hurt somebody’s feelings… But I’ve always considered what the right thing to do is. There are certain things that you’ve got to say, there’s right and wrong.”

“The easiest thing to do is accuse us, but you know, an employer doesn’t think twice about hiring his own private army of security guards with dogs and sidearms. It’s an accepted practice. Look- we could take the easy way out. We could let strikebreakers through our picket lines. We could allow anybody to run over our people, and it would soon be well known all over town that Local 115 can’t take it. If we were the kind of union that accepted low wages and no benefits and all the rationalizations, then we would be a general run-of-the-mill union and we wouldn’t be protecting anybody.”

“Working people are not going to get decent pay anymore, (In place of the labor movement), I think there’ll be social unrest. I think there’ll be something like the civil rights movement. It’s my hope it will turn into a third party. Not a labor party. A third party.”

“If you want to organize, you’re going to get arrested.”

“If you let them get away with that, they’re gonna eat your breakfast!”

“We’re not putting up with that!”

 

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