Maxed Out 

Get back to the bargaining table, both of you

By G.D. Maxwell

Samuel Gompers was a bear of a man. He was big and burly, with hands the size of hams, piercing dark eyes and a moustache that all but covered the lower half of his face. If youÕd ever seen Sam Gompers climb onto a bus and head for the seat next to you, your first impulse might well have been to get off at the next stop and wait for another bus.

A cigar maker by trade, Sam was elected the very first president of the American Federation of Labor in 1886. He spent the next 38 years of his life creating untold grief for the heartless robber barons of American business. Among his other crimes against free enterprise, he made them begin to pay living wages. He made them close a few sweatshops. He made them give workers some time off so they could have a life. He made them clean up workplaces so they werenÕt the death traps they had historically been. He made them share the wealth and thereby contribute to the ascension of the middle class, who, as it happened, were the single biggest natural market for the widgets being made by the people who didnÕt want to pay their employees enough to buy them.

In a particularly heated negotiating session with a group of business leaders fed up with his demands, the question was put to him. ÒMr. Gompers, just what exactly is it you want?Ó

His one word response set the tone for all future labour negotiations, at least until the last 10 or 15 years when a generation of idiotic labour leaders began to sit across the table from a generation of incredibly greedy executives and see which side could lead the race to the bottom.

ÒMore,Ó he said. ÒWe want more.Ó

More wages, more benefits, more safety, more compassion, more vacation, more of everything that made life better for working men, women and children.

More has been the dream of North Americans since Europeans first set foot on the continent and started conniving to beat the savage natives out of whatever spurious claims they had to the riches of the land by having peacefully occupied it for mere centuries. More is all most of us have ever known. More people, more cars, more houses, more toys, more money, more flavours of latte. The growth curve of mankind has trended unendingly upward since fire was harnessed, rudimentary agriculture mastered and weapons improved. It seems to be twisted into our genetic code somewhere.

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