A Life Story

by Jim Perlstein

          One raw overcast early spring day in 1946, my mother kept me out of school.  Joined by her buddy Rose Kryzak and her daughter, my close friend, Annie, and my 5-year old sister Linda, she ferried us all down to the huge Phelps-Dodge copper smelter on Newtown Creek.

 

          Workers there had walked out as part of the strike wave that swept the country with the lifting of wartime wage and price controls and an end to the unions’ no-strike pledge.

 

          While Rose and my mom staffed the strike kitchen, Annie, my sister and I patrolled the plant gates, handing out leaflets to strikers, scabs and passersby.

 

          Next day, returning to P.S. 150, I got to lecture my 5th grade class on the History & Status of American Labor Relations.  Fanny Malden was a very progressive public school teacher.

 

          Sometime later, as the strike wave wound down, I asked my mom, “Did we win?”  She gave me a radiant smile and replied, “No sweetheart.  But we raised consciousness!”

 

          And that has been, pretty much, the story of my life.

 

          In my dotage, it occurs to me that an elevated consciousness and $3.00 gets you on the subway. And even though I take some comfort in my eligibility for the senior discount, I still long for one really big win in the real world.

Strikers at Phelps Dodge, Elizabethtown, New Jersey, 1946