Posted by: James Atticus Bowden | September 7, 2009

My Personal Connection with Labor

Labor, as in working, has been my life.  I started earning wages when I was 15.  Was self-supporting – thank you U.S. Army – at age 17.  Still in the harness now.

But, my connection to the labor movement is a different personal story.  It’s about my Grandfather – the Atticus – I was named after.  

Atticus W. League was born in S.C. in 1881.   In the early 1900s he was working on the railroad from Memphis, Tennessee.   He was a union man.  Our oral history is that he was also a union organizer.  Which is why he “got run out of Tennessee.”    It became known that staying in Tennessee was going to become very, and terminally, unhealthy for him.  So, around 1905 he went to Arizona.  

He stayed in the union.  He worked as a brakeman and conductor on the railroad until they made him quit at age 75.   He wanted to keep working.   He was physically vigorous until the last year of his life when skin cancer killed him.  He was a devout Christian. 

He died when we lived in France (my father was an Army officer).   When we came home, my Grandmother gave me my inheritance from him.  I didn’t get a trust fund.   Or money.  Or land.  Or a car.   I got his watch and his union card.   My Grandmother gave it to me with the emphasis in honor, if not ceremony, of what was bestowed to me.

My Grandmother lived 16 years beyond my Grandfather.  She was very proud to live on her railway pension and not be on social security.   It meant a lot to her. 

I always knew that Unions were created for really important reasons.  That Unions meant a lot to many folks.   That the Unions had earned a special trust in many hearts. 

I believe Unions still have an important role as advocates for workers.  For being the force for justice in the workplace when people are mistreated or abused.   Unions are the only moral force for people, or would be if they acted so.

But, I haven’t seen much of today’s union leadership that indicates they are anything like the man my grandfather was.   My grandfather invested money from his wages – to actually be prosperous during the Depression.   He was a Capitalist.   And, again a devout Christian. 

Which makes me pro-union worker, pro-union family, yet anti-socialist, liberal, secular, corrupt, stupid, cheating, lying, stealing, bankrupting, greedy, bullying, union bosses.   Which, I believe, may be about all of them. 

I trust there are still good Christian men and women in the unions.  People who want fairness, not special favors.   I  hope they can be instruments of real change in unions – to make them better to make our country better.



  1. I belonged to the teachers union out of fear for my job. I thank God that I am retired.

    Read about Edd McGrath. I think you will enjoy it.
    He is a friend of ours.

  2. Very good post, Jim. Enjoyed reading that very much. The very same experience could be said of my grandfather and the VEA.

  3. Thanks, Cousin Kathy.

    Shaun, you too. I take it your grandfather was a better man than the loons running the VEA these days.

  4. Excellent post. You can be positively lyrical at times, JAB. I have been a member of two unions in my day (which was a very long time ago). By any standard superficially applied now, I would be regarded as pure anathema by political unionism. But they had a point and a mission at a certain time in our history. They would still have relevance if they concentrated on protecting basic notions of fairness and rights of workers instead of using dues to buy pols.

  5. Thanks NoVa. I think Unions have a role today and tomorrow.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: