I was a union mole at Kmart

By John Dicker

Published January 8, 2001 7:12PM (EST)

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Like John Dicker, I am a college-educated leftist. I have logged almost a decade in and out of the teachers union. I have recruited, and I have failed to recruit, fellow workers. I've found the teachers unions are pretty OK if your comfort level is to tell the truth and let the recruit decide.

I am a little shocked that "J-Dick" outs the AFL-CIO this way. I always suspected it did this kind of stuff, but doesn't J-D like his kneecaps? And where does this guy -- special-Kmart faux worker that he was -- get off with the cartoony descriptions of his co-workers at K-warehouse?

As a high school teacher, I facilitated my students' efforts to research and debate the truth about labor, civil rights, the left, the right, the middle and the American way as set forth in textbooks. Students left my classroom believing all manner of things -- from the gospel of Greenspan to the necessity of picketing the World Trade Organization. What I saw as important is that they came to their belief honestly, and left knowing that life experience will change your beliefs honestly. My class worked without any crass manipulation and with a surplus of discussion and intellectual challenge from peers -- and an occasional monkey wrench tossed in from the teacher.

If I sound a bit prideful, it is just that my students always gave me good recs and heartfelt thanks, with longer than sound-bite descriptions of what we learned.

If unions really want to make a difference in U.S. society, they should send would-be union organizers into teacher training programs, to help kids examine and discuss the real history of the left and labor movements in the U.S. The 19-year-old mother described in the article could probably run rings around the author if she could find her voice to recruit for the union. Or maybe her voice would be anti-union. This article doesn't let us know, and the author didn't do jack to help her know.

The majority of folks working in union jobs deserve, and desire, better salaries and better treatment. Whether or not individuals are particularly well-informed on labor issues, I am sure they expect respect from recruitment efforts rather than cheap tricks. If the likes of John Dicker and his compatriots had tried to recruit me into the teachers union, I would have asked the football coach to punch him out -- and arranged for the school nurse to give first aid.

-- Viki Cravens

John Dicker sublimely portrays what it's like to be bored and bullied on the job -- something I've experienced at every blue- and white-collar post I've held.

Dicker's liquid revenge, his courage in the face of helplessness, was as inspirational as it was amusing.

-- Monica Gullon

Regarding the recently posted account of a union mole at Kmart, I applaud John Dicker for his ability to make the most of a bad situation. By sharing his exploits with Salon readers, he must feel that he has reclaimed some portion, however small, of the time he wasted in pointless activity.

Unfortunately, reading his article made me wish I could do the same.

-- Doug Frazey

So, let me get this straight: A bourgeois leftist decides to assuage his social conscience by volunteering for a job as a union mole at Kmart, after failing at a previous union-mole attempt due to incompetence. He then fails his cause and his peers by losing control because someone called him names.

Still, it's an instructive little illustration of the detachment of the urban, white-collar left from the real world: "Nothing I read in the Nation offered any useful methodology for dealing with Jim." I can assure Mr. Dicker that a career in labor -- as opposed to dilettantish dabbling in it -- would have presented him with several methodologies.

Union moles have their place, of course, but unions might be better served if they used actual, legitimate working adults. The last qualification is crucial, as it precludes the employment of self-aggrandizing aspiring writers who are undone by schoolyard taunts -- people like John Dicker.

-- Joshua Trevino

By Salon Staff

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