He was there as advertised. He was maybe in his late teens, tall, well built and dressed for the drop-dead Washington heat in shorts and a pullover shirt with proud red-and-white stripes. He walked slowly back and forth before a Capitol Hill restaurant called the Gandy Dancer, holding a sign on which the word "unfair" leaped out at you. You would think at first glance that this was a strike, but it wasn't. The guy with the sign was hired to picket and it was having someone march around in the hot sun. The guy ought to have a union.
I went to see the picket because the principal owner of the Gandy Dancer, Frederick D.C. Moore, has papered the town with an explanation of why there is a picket before his place. His letter is long and his letter is eloquent and what it says, more or less, is that he's the one who is being treated unfairly. It says that he's the one with the informational picket line before his door and he's the one with the employees who don't want to be Unionized and he's the one who has offered to hold a representational election and he's the one who has watched some of his Capitol Hill customers pass his place by. Some people see picket lines the way vampires see a cross. You don't ask questions.
If you call the union and talk to the top man there. Ronald Richardson, he will tell you that most of what Moore says is true. He disputes none of the important facts and he says, sort of as an afterword, that his intention is not even to unionize the place. It is more or less, to make life hard for the Gandy Dancer because the Gandy Dancer makes life hard for other restaurants in the area that are unionized. It may pay the same wages, Richardson says, but it offers no pension and no health insurance program and no paid holidays - none of the fringe benefits that the union has secured for its members. The union wants to state its case and the informational picketing at the Gandy Dancer is its way of doing it.
Anyway, the thing that brought me down to see the pickets at the Gandy Dancer was a paragraph of Moore's letter in which he said that he was essentially prounion. He said it very well and he said that unions must continue their efforts since workers are continuing to be exploited. This is no industrialist talking, and on the phone he said pretty much the same thing. On the phone he put a bit differently. He said sometimes unions overstep the "bounds of resonableness."
Now I have to tell you right off that in this fight. I side with Fred Moore. I do this despite the fact that I have never met him and come from a background in which you did not question the unions. There is a picture in my parents' house or my sister's house and it shows my grandfather, my great-uncle and a third man as young men. The third man was named Mendel and I was told he was a union organizer. This is my background and this is why you did not question the unions and this is why you did not question that the unions were always right, the bosses alway wrong. As a general rule, this is still the case.
But there is something that Moore said that is also sometimes the case - that businesses about overstepping bounds. It was in high school when I first saw this. I was working in a store after school and I watched some men install a new store window. There were too many men for the job and one man, I remember, did nothing but drive the truck. He was not permitted to touch the glass. After that, I learned of firemen who worked for railroads that had converted to oil and musicians who worked at places where records were used and unions who sent their officers off to retirement in California resorts for millionaires while the rank and file thought they were lucky if they could park a camper by a lake and put a toe into the water.
Anyway, the thing about the people like me is that we're always thinking that if we criticize the unions we've taken the side of the National Review and the Chamber of Commerce and the ghost of Henry Ford the first. We have this us-against-them attitude. So we keep our mouths shut. There was this woman at the Democratic National Convention in New York who asked to have a light bulb changed. The unions at Madison Square Garden sent two men and they said they would charge $40. The platform of the Democratic Party said nothing about this. It should have.
Anyway, the dispute at the Gandy Dancer is not as cosmic as all this, but it is not about nothing, either. The way the union explains matters, the Gandy Dancer is unfair not because it is treating its own employees infairly but because it is unfairly competing with places that have union contracts. It is, in the words of Robinson, either charging less for its food or making more of a profit because it does not have the expenses that come with a union contract - a pension plan for instance.
Well, I can follow that and I can see in the long run how jobs could be at stake. But the workers at the Gandy Dancer haven't asked for a union and don't think they are being unfairly treated, and what this thing is about in the long run is not representing people but businesses - the restaurant workers union taking the side of businesses that have signed union contracts. This is something new in unionism, and while I have no quarrel with it in theory, I do have a problem when it comes down to an attempt to put a restaurant out of business or at least hurt it badly. The dign on the picket said it all.