Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Union of the Heart

I worked in a factory many years ago with a young woman. I first met Helen on the picket line. We were both assigned one cold February night, to stand guard in front of Gate B. As we spent that first long night together, sharing a thermos of coffee, Helen told me many stories of unions past. She was proud of our union and what it stood for. I remember her telling me that, “It is not about us against them, it’s about our rights as workers and citizens of the United States!” Helen began my labor education that night. She opened my eyes. She made me think.

About three months ago I got a phone call. The woman on the other end of the phone was Helen. It had been twenty years since we had last talked, so I didn’t recognized her voice at first. We talked of times past and laughed like the kids we once were. She was moving back to the area and wanted see me again. Helen had lost her husband and now she was coming home.

I saw Helen this last weekend. She came to town to look for an apartment. I recognized her right away. She had changed very little. She still had that fire in her eyes that I remembered so well and a smile that could charm the hardest bosses.

To my surprise, her first request was, “Let’s go to the plant, Larry, I want to go back to B Gate!” She wanted spend our first couple hours together talking in the same place, that we had met in, over thirty years before.

As we drove to the west side of town toward the plant, my mind raced with all the possibilities of emotions that we might both feel. Before we made the turn on to the road, where the plant was located, I told her what she was about to see. “Helen, the plant has been gone for many years now!” “Our union is gone and so are all the other plants in town.” “They are all gone!”

I stopped the car and pointed to the spot in the vacant lot that used to be Gate B. And to that spot we walked and took seats on cinder blocks left from the buildings demolition. She quietly stared at the place where the plant once stood, for what seemed like an eternity. Finally she turned to me and said, “They can take our plant and they can bust our union, but they can never change what is in our hearts!”

“You are right Helen, you and I will always be brother and sister, in the Union of the heart.”

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