Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Union Strong

   “Although it is true that only about 20 percent of American workers are in unions, that 20 percent sets the standards across the board in salaries, benefits, and working conditions.  If you are making decent salary in a non-union company, you owe that to the unions.  One thing corporations do not do is give out money out of the goodness of their hearts.”  Molly Ivins

The immense sewer project at IUN to facilitate storm water removal during heavy rainfalls appears nearly complete.  Launched in partnership with the Gary Sanitary District, the operation first closed 33rd Avenue and more recently 35th.  Now both are open to traffic, and bulldozers are concentrating on a tight spot on campus between Raintree Hall and the library courtyard.  Watching the daily progress, I’ve been quite impressed with how efficient the operation has proceeded.
photos by Leeann Wright

As I was observing the men at work, one of them greeted me with a smile declared, “Dr. Lane!”  It was Mat Murphy, who had taken classes with me 20 years ago.  He now works for Gatlin Plumbing and Heating, a Griffith company founded by Ivan and Marjorie Gatlin that’s been in existence since 1938.  The economy was just beginning to pick up then, but it must have taken hard work and sacrifice to get the business on a stable footing.  Then came the war and postwar boom.   Checking out the company website, I discovered that it is affiliated with a half dozen unions, including pipefitters, plumbers, teamsters, operators, and laborers.
Gatlin Plumbing and Heating in 1938 and today
Looking up Gatlin Plumbing and Heating on Google, I ran across several companies that made use of the Alfred Einstein quote, “If I could do it all again, I’d be a plumber.”  Actually the full quote goes like this:
If I would be a young man again and had to decide how to make my living, I would not try to become a scientist or scholar or teacher. I would rather choose to be a plumber or a peddler in the hope to find that modest degree of independence still available under present circumstances.

Einstein spent his later years at Princeton at the Institute for Advanced Study, frustrated by the implications of quantum theories that he did so much to bring about.  He did not regard it as a complete theory but could never accomplish his goal of achieving a unified field theory.

Examining the Steel Shavings master index for Mat Murphy, I discovered that he had interviewed his uncle, Paul Gatlin, for my 1996 issue “Social Trends and Racial Tensions during the 1960s,” who witnessed LBJ speak on October 8, 1964.  President Lyndon B. Johnson, running in the upcoming election against Republican Barry Goldwater, arrived at the athletic field of East Chicago Washington High School.  With him were press secretary George Reedy, a native East Chicagoan, and such fellow Democrats as U.S. senators Birch Bayh and Vance Hartke, Congressman Ray J. Madden, mayors A Martin Katz (Gary), Edward Dowling (Hammond), and John Nicosia (East Chicago), and gubernatorial candidate Roger Branigin.  In the crowd was Paul Gatlin, at the time a Griffith High senior.

Mat Murphy wrote: “Griffith had a half day of school so that students could attend President Johnson’s speech.  Paul went with Mike Griffey, who made a joke about shooting the president.  A couple of Secret Service agents heard Mike, handcuffed him and dragged him away.  They didn’t arrest him but certainly scared him half to death.”

Four years later, Paul Gatlin was working at Lakes of the Four Seasons.  Murphy wrote: “A cave-in occurred.  The workers had no V in the 20-foot hole.  About ten men were buried and one killed.  Paul had to dig out the dead person.”

Next day Mat Murphy was not on campus, but I had lunch with two Gatlin Plumbing workers, one from Crown Point and the other from Cedar Lake, who was reading a book about Dak To in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, where in November 1967 the 173rd Airborne suffered 400 casualties during a 21-day effort to take Hill 875.  Both guys remarked that, thanks to being in unions, they make a decent living but are by no means rich.  I mentioned what a rich history Cedar Lake has and that someone had written into the Post-Trib’s “Quickly” that in Kokomo is known as the city of traffic lights, Cedar Lake should be called the town of detours because of all the construction projects.  Hopefully good union members are doing the work.

In a chapter entitled “The American Nation and the West” James Madison’s “Hoosiers” notes the 1779 victory of forces under George Rogers Clark over British commander Henry Hamilton at Fort Sackville near Vincennes.  To intimidate the enemy into surrendering, Madison writes, “Clark ordered four pro-British Indians brought to the gates of the fort, where his men tomahawked and scalped them and threw their bodies into the Wabash River.”  Madison went on to say that a hundred years ago Clark was celebrated as Indiana’s greatest hero.  As late as the 1970s a state license plate appeared in his honor, and the legislature proclaimed that school children celebrate February 25 as George Rogers Clark Day.  Noting Andrew R.L. Clayton’s 1996 book on “Frontier Indiana,” which tarnishes Clark’s “romantic hero” image, Madison concludes:
            “There was still room to celebrate Clark’s achievement, but now in a broader context that allowed for multiple perspectives, to include even brutality and cold-blooded murder by whites as well as Indians.

Gone from Madison’s chapter is Frederick C. Yohn’s 1923 painting “The Capture of Fort Sackville” that appeared in “The Indiana Way.”  In its place is one of Miami chief Little Turtle, who, according to the caption, “led Native American warriors to great victories over the American invaders [but] after defeat at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1764, chose peace and accommodation and gave Indian-style for American dress.”  That tactic did not save the Miami from ultimately being removed west.

Madison does not paint a flattering portrait of territory governor William Henry Harrison, who was pro-slavery and opposed a democratic faction headed by Jonathan Jennings, eventually Indiana’s first elected chief executive.  The Battle of Tippecanoe was not a rousing victory for Harrison, whose negligence in not properly fortifying his camp led to 20 percent of his men dying or being wounded and had scant significance (compared to Fallen Timbers or the Battle of the Thames) except in furthering Harrison’s political career.  Despite Harrison’s opposition, Indiana’s first constitution banned slavery.  Drawn up under the shade of an elm tree in Corydon, the remaining wood from that mighty elm, in Madison’s words, “is Indiana’s most hallowed relic.”

While Madison does not mention the 1919 Steel Strike, Gary’s most traumatic event, his pro-union and progressive sympathies are evident in his portrait of Hoosier socialist Eugene V. Debs and coverage of the auto industry sit-down strikes that originated in the Bendix (a GM auto supplier) plant in South Bend.  Madison repeats poet James Whitcomb Riley’s famous line, “There’s nothing ‘at’s patheticker than jest bein’ rich.”

According to Donna Gill, sister of Hobart football legends Rudy and Bob Kuechenberg, her parents toured the country with a small carnival before settling down.  Interviewed by the Post-Trib’s Jeff Manes, Donna claimed Rudy, Sr., got shot out of a cannon.  One day his neck was hurting so bad brother Alfred took his place.  The operators didn’t adjust for the weight difference, and Alfred sailed right into the nearby Ferris wheel and busted up his face.  Rudy eventually became an ironworker, on weekends, Donna claimed, “was a rodeo cowboy who rode bucking broncos.  Eventually, he became a rodeo clown who would come out of the chute riding a Brahma bull backwards while holding on to its tail.”  Donna, also an adventurer, now travels the country on a 2004 Honda Silver Wing scooter.
 Mike and Tammy Sedden
The Post-Trib’s Johnny Gorches did a feature on good-natured Mike Sebben, whom I’ve bowled with for many years.  He and wife Tammy bought Hebron Lanes, where Mike once worked as a manager and until recently worked for Jim Fowble at Cressmoor Lanes.  Tammy likened her husband to the Energizer bunny, a good description for someone who seemed always on the go.  He is still good friends with the Fowbles, who have known him for 40 years and whom he regularly calls for advice.

A feature on things that happened “on this date” mentioned that one hundred years ago Pope Pius X died of a broken heart because of the outbreak of war.  Profoundly saddened by the hostilities, the 80 year-old pontiff suffered a fatal heart attack on the day German troops marched into Brussels, the capital of Belgium.  One wonders what the world would be like today if somehow World War I and its aftermath, World War II, could have been avoided.

Lest month Lake Circuit Judge George Paras ruled that Indiana’s right-to work law was unconstitutional.  Attorney General Greg Zoeller requested a postponement until the Indiana Supreme Court made a ruling.  Judge Paras denied the request, writing that to deny the United Steelworkers union the ability to collect fees from nonunion members deprives them of being paid for services federal law requires they provide for all workers in a bargaining unit.  Good for him.  He knows what side his bread is buttered on.

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