"Dude, where's my gig?"
However, I am in accord with him on one thing. When he stated that the notion of public servants engaging in collective bargaining with the politicians who are elected by the taxpayers represents the worst sort of conflict of interest, he was spot on.
Class warfare is breaking out across the United States. Those cradle-to-grave-robbers who have bought the Democrat rhetoric about “the richest one percent” are now taking to the streets because some politicians are suggesting that they contribute to their own future well-being instead of expecting European-style entitlements simply for showing up at the office for a few years. I’m fascinated at how this is going to shake out in the coming weeks.
When I finally stumbled into college, and spent more time playing rock & roll than studying, I got my first taste of union largesse. I got into a band that was moderately successful in the local market—Atlanta; a launching pad for national acts—and we were continually visited by representatives of the musician’s union during the late ‘70s. These erstwhile individuals, who usually resembled Burt Young in the “Rocky” movies with the porkpie hat and cigar, would show up at gigs, stopping us at the stage door and asking if we were members of the union. We weren’t, and would tell them as much. The entreaties that would follow ranged from proffered union cards to threats that we were violating the rights of dues-paying musicians, and should we ever be offered a big-league recording contract, we would never be allowed to sign unless we were card-carrying union members.
The last, and most memorable confrontation, came outside the back door of The Great Southeastern Music Hall, a long-gone but much-revered venue in its day. (Among other events, the SEMH was where The Sex Pistols opened their American tour a week before we opened for the B-52s back in the day.) An ice storm had delayed our arrival for sound check, and since we had no roadies, we were humping several tons of amps, stage props, and drums into the club from a back alley crowded with vehicles. The bulk of the equipment was inside, and Tim Trautman—the composer of our biggest local radio hits, “Disco Chainsaw” and “Pet Rock”—and I were leaning on our trucks, having a smoke before we went in to assemble the R&R paraphernalia.
Suddenly, a shadowy figure appeared, replete with the aforementioned cigar and hat.
“You guys playing here tonight?” he asked. (He might as well have said “Youse” like a movie gangster, to make the image complete.)
We nodded. We’d been here before.
The dark figure launched into a spiel about the union, starving musicians earning fair compensation for our slavish hard work, and how anybody that was anybody belonged to the AFM. [American Federation of Musicians]
Tim brought the conversation to a sensational halt.
“Hey!” he asked the guy. “You gonna get us any gigs?”
“Uh, er, ah, well, no…” came the reply.
“Then what good are you?” Tim walked inside the club to set up his equipment, and I followed a moment later.
We continued to work, opening for national acts like the Ramones, Ronnie Montrose, The Tubes, The Police, Joan Jett, and several times for the B-52s after they hit the big time. We signed a recording contract, I played drums for Joe Walsh on the “Turn to Stone” track on his album “The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get” before he joined The Eagles, and our vinyl EP got extensive radio play on Atlanta stations. No one from the AFM or any other union ever approached us again. Our band was mentioned in a “Newsweek” article about the resurgence of Southern rock in 1988. Personnel changes doomed the band, not the threat of an amorphous union. Our modest success was based on talent and ambition, not on the collective bargaining of a parasitical entity.
Unions had a place in history and served a useful function in society when they protected hard-put laborers from exploitation and other predations of the robber barons. Those days are long gone, and aside from minimal oversight functions, there is no need for the antiquated “Organized Labor” movement as it exists today. Morons chanting partisan political slogans while blocking traffic and clogging lobbies have nothing to do with the plight of the working man.
And FDR was right: public servants negotiating with public servants is a horrible conflict of interest. Taxpayers elect the politicians, who promise OPM [Other People’s Money] to union members—other public servants, as in the Wisconsin brouhaha—in return for the support and votes of those union members. Somewhere in this loop, the taxpayers are excluded. “Public service” becomes the public serving the elite few, not the other way ‘round as it should be.
This morning’s news contained an item about 200 ill or disabled outpatients in New Jersey kicked to the curb because two-thirds of the [unionized] transit drivers of Monmouth County called in sick so they could attend a “day of solidarity” rally. I keep seeing a sign displayed in Madison: “RNs [registered nurses]…Strong unions protect our patients.” Every time I see that clip, I wonder, when the nurse’s union calls a strike, how many sick people will be left gasping for life in their beds? Who’s going to protect the gravely ill when the “strong unions” are calling in “sick” because their wages are only 25% higher than the private sector?
I don’t even want to get started on the teachers who are not only denying education to their charges in state-run schools in Wisconsin, but are being urged to co-opt children as pawns by dragging them to the partisan rallies. Hillary Clinton was the pre-eminent example of pimping kids for political ends, but today’s liberal agenda goes way beyond her simplistic “It Takes a Village” collectivism. I think there is a viable argument against state-schooling of any sort. There is no constitutional guarantee of “an education.” Back in the day, you got it from your parents, you learned it on your own, or you made your mark and hoped for the best. An educated society is a strong society, but until there is a national system of charter schools, vouchers, recognition of home schooling without governmental intervention, and agenda-free public education for the neediest among us, I don’t want to hear any more bitching about how hard a teaching career is. Like the military and the ideal of politics, it’s volunteer work. If you’re not motivated by a genuine concern for those you serve, then take your degree in basket-weaving and obscure European literature to the private sector, and let me know how that works out for you.
“You gonna get me any gigs? No? Then what good are you?”