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David Macaray Headshot

Today We Would Root for Goliath

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It's puzzling, if not downright bizarre, why more Americans don't root for the underdog. Maybe it was just self-serving, textbook propaganda taught to our school children, but rooting for the "little guy" has always been presented as one of our national traits.

This lack of empathy has never been more apparent than in regard to the public's view of labor unions. Talk about a propaganda victory for business! Management vs. Labor. Wall Street vs. Main Street. Instead of cheering for the "little guy," the public is now cheering for the gargantuan money-creatures that pull the strings. How on earth did things go so haywire?

Instead of being alarmed by the fact that private sector union membership has dwindled to less than 7 percent, and that this statistic correlates directly and undeniably with the decline of the middle class, people don't seem to get it. And this goes way beyond apathy or indifference. Incredibly, they now rejoice when they hear of a union getting its butt kicked.

It's true. When word of a huge, multinational corporation beating down its union workers reaches the man on the street -- a man making a modest wage and enjoying modest benefits -- he nods in approval, pleased that these union guys have gotten their comeuppance. It's a world turned upside down. It's like English peasants rooting for the King.

One of the most absurd complaints you hear is that unions are "too powerful." Really?? With nearly 90 percent of the jobs in America, public and private, being non-union, with profits at an all-time high, with union contracts being cut, with membership dropping, with the Democrats having said, "Adios, muchachos," to organized labor, how in God's name can anyone believe unions are too powerful??

Here's a true story. In 1995, the LA Dodgers brought up Mike Busch to fill in at third base for the injured Tim Wallach. But when Busch arrived, the players, led by their union rep Brett Butler, treated him rudely. They snubbed him. They sneered at him. They muttered things under their breath when he passed.

Mind you, no one pushed him up against the wall and kneed him in the groin, no one beat the living crap out of him, no one vandalized his car or home, all of which would've happened had this been a steel mill in the 1930s instead of a major league clubhouse in the 1990s. They simply snubbed him.

So why the snub? Because Mike Busch was a scab, one who partakes of the benefits provided by a union contract, but turns traitor and coward when asked to fight to preserve those benefits. During the 1994 baseball strike, Busch crossed the union picket line and offered himself as a replacement player. The only thing preventing us from calling this guy a slimy, scum-eating snake is our respect for reptiles.

But here's the topper. The LA Times ran a sympathetic story about Busch's unpleasant reception (presumably, a Dodger executive or Busch himself had gone whining to the media), and received a huge amount of mail in response. In fact, the Times announced that the sports page had received the most letters (actual letters, not email) it had ever received on any single topic.

According to the Times, there were 255 letters, and they broke down this way: 246 letters critical of the union, 4 letters supporting the union, and one letter blaming general manager Fred Claire for not anticipating this reaction. So the public sided with the baseball owners, the fat cats, the majority of whom bought their teams with inherited wealth. They sided with the billionaires against the millionaires.

If the Bible were written today, it might tell a different story. Instead of the Valley of Elah, the fight between the heavily favored Philistine giant, Goliath, and the prohibitive underdog, David, would be held in Vegas. As the two men did battle, the crowd would stomp their feet, pump their fists, and scream, "Kill the little bastard."

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor, 2nd edition), was a former union rep.