Fresh memories

March 17, 2012 · by Allison Porter · Filed Under Choices, Previous · Leave a Comment

Last week I was being introduced as the facilitator at a two day leadership team retreat when someone mentioned he had read a speech I had given about the need for labor law reform.  I was immediately transported to two places at the same time.

The first was to 1994, age 33, sitting at a big wooden table in a large, ornate room in a downtown DC Federal building, next to the well-dressed director of HR for Marriott Corporation, delivering a speech to the Dunlop Commission on the Future of Worker-Management Relations. The speech was about the total inadequacy of laws written to protect workers from retaliation for union activity. It felt great to be speaking truth to power.

The second was to 1984, age 23, sitting at a metal desk in a small office of the Operating Engineers Local 465, alone with a lawyer for an anti-union consulting firm, signing a document he had handed me.  The document was the settlement of charges we had filed on behalf of James, who had been fired for asking his coworkers to sign union cards.  The settlement called for a modest cash settlement with no reinstatement.  As I signed the document, my hands were shaking.

Looking back, I felt a mixture of both pride and empathy for my younger selves.  In both cases, I had believed that justice would prevail.  In 1983, that belief was shaken by broken system of labor law that not only couldn’t prevent people from having their rights trampled, it couldn’t punish those who did the trampling. In 1993, I believed that the law could not stand if light was shined upon it, only to stand by when a tepid Dunlop Commission report resulted in no change to labor law.  The bitter lessons from these experiences fueled my passion for social change.

I am still an optimist, but I no longer believe in the power of truth to make change; I believe in the power of people united.  I believe that while the laws are becoming more draconian for working people in Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan, we are ultimately going to move them – not through the logic of our arguments, but through the power of our alliances.

When the  introduction ended and it was my turn to speak, my eyes were clouded with tears.  Then it occurred to me, “how’d he get a copy of a speech from 1994?”   So as I moved on to the topic of the retreat, I found my assumptions challenged yet again by the ubiquitous power of the internet to reveal, amplify, distort and resuscitate – the truth.


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