Thirty Years Later, Wimpy Wisdom Still Rings True

In an op-ed to the Delta County Independent, a Colorado resident writes about her disappointment with the governor in her home state of Wisconsin. The letter’s author, Marjorie Johnson, wrote how she was reminded of a Phil Donahue show she watched years ago and why the words of Donahue’s guest that day are still so relevant today.

It was 1981 when then-IAM International President William Winpisinger was invited to guest on the popular daytime talk show. The topic was whether unions were still needed in America, or had they worn out their usefulness.

Johnson recalls Winpisinger delivering a gritty but eloquent sermon about the sacrifices that paved the way for all workers – union and non-union – to have a better future. Below is an excerpt from Johnson’s op-ed:

“Donahue’s guest that day was an old man who was the head of a machinist’s union. The audience was made up of people who wanted to discuss whether unions were needed in our country, what good were they anyway, and did they do more harm than good.

Donahue was playing his usual devil’s advocate role and getting the audience stirred up. The conclusion of most of the people who got up to speak seemed to be that unions were old hat. There was no reason for them to still exist in this day and age, so they should just go away.

The old man listened carefully to what was being said, then when it was his turn to speak, he began asking questions. He asked how many folks there were in the audience who worked 40-hour weeks, and to raise their hands if they did. Many hands were raised. Then he asked how many got scheduled days off, and those days were often on the weekends.

He went on to ask about sick leave and health insurance. How many had things like that, and how many had unemployment insurance? After each question many hands were raised. Vacation time and job-related retirement programs? How about those? And many who raised their hands were smiling, as if to congratulate themselves in their good fortune.  

Then it happened. The old man rose up and asked them where the hell they thought those things came from. Did they think that all their employers just got together one day and decided to be nice to them and give them all those things?”

Johnson described how Winpisinger went on and told the audience that they needed to remember that there were people who actually died for these things and that no one should ever forget where they came from.

You can read the entire letter by clicking here.

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